RealTime IT News

DoE, IBM Supercomputer Shatters LINPACK Test

The U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) Thursday said that a BlueGene/L supercomputer built by IBM for nuclear arms research runs at a record 70.72 teraflops, making it the fastest computer on the LINPACK benchmark test.

Jack Dongarra, LINPACK test creator and co-author of the well-regarded Top500 report of the world's most powerful computing systems, confirmed the record in an e-mail to

The Top500 authors use the Fortran-based LINPACK benchmark as their "yardstick of performance" for gauging the performance of a dedicated system for solving a dense system of linear equations. Teraflops, or one trillion floating points per second, are the key metrics when determining the processing speed of computing systems.

The DoE, whose National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) worked on the system for years with IBM, is using the machine for the nation's Stockpile Stewardship Program to study how the nation's nuclear weapons stockpile is aging. With BlueGene/L, NNSA is able to do this without risky underground nuclear testing.

This particular BlueGene/L dwarfs earlier supercomputers, according to the LINPACK test, including a BlueGene/L system announced in September that runs at 36.01 teraflops and NEC's Earth Simulator, which runs at 35.86 teraflops .

More striking, perhaps, is that the new DoE system isn't finished, currently only running at one quarter its final size, said U.S. Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham in a statement.

"The delivery of the first quarter of the BlueGene/L system to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory this month shows how a partnership between government and industry can effectively advance national agendas in science, technology, security and industrial competitiveness," said Abraham.

The final BlueGene/L system, to be delivered to Lawrence Livermore early next year in 64 racks with more than 130,000 processors, will exceed the performance of the NEC Earth Simulator by a factor of nine. It will also require one-seventh the electrical power and one-fourteenth the floor space. IBM expects smaller super systems like this to be the rule in the future.

Abraham went on to describe high-performance computing, in which multiple systems are used in congress to perform several mathematical equations simultaneously, as the "backbone of the nation's science and technology enterprise."

Some trends indicate Abraham's claim is hardly hyperbole. Several government agencies are currently creating supercomputers with high-tech systems vendors to solve problems in climatology, chemistry, life sciences, physics and nuclear weapons testing.

Dongarra and his fellow authors plan to announce the new supercomputing rankings for 2004 Monday afternoon. This year's results could be the most anticipated yet. Rivals IBM, SGI, Cray, HP and Sun Microsystems have been preparing to make announcements at the show.

SGI and IBM have been exchanging boasts about who had the most powerful supercomputer of late. SGI last week announced it has powered NASA's "Columbia" supercomputer, which clocks in at 42.7 teraflops when running LINPACK, eclipsing IBM's previous Blue Gene by 6.84 teraflops.

But at 70.72 teraflops, the latest BlueGene/L again vaults to the top slot -- at least until the Top500's announcement Monday.