Whose Computer Is Fastest of All?

By Hannah Hoag|Tuesday, October 01, 2002

Japan has ousted the United States and jumped to first in the latest ranking of the world's fastest supercomputers. Jack Dongarra, a computer scientist at the University of Tennessee, has been tracking the progress of the world's best number-crunching machines since 1993. Twice a year, he publishes a list of the 500 champs (see www.top500.org). He gives each computer a set of linear equations to solve. The rate at which it solves them—expressed in floating-point operations per second—determines which machine is fastest. The Earth Simulator in Japan, which can perform nearly 36 trillion calculations in one second, tops the list. The top 10:

  1. Five times faster than number 2, the NEC-built Earth Simulator in Yokohama, Japan, models terrestrial climate and plate tectonics. Speed: 35.86 teraflops (trillion operations per second).

  2. Two years old and at the top of the list just seven months ago, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's ASCI White simulates the aging of U.S. stockpiled nuclear weapons. Speed: 7.23 teraflops.

  3. The LeMieux ("the best") supercomputer at the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center tackles academic calculations for researchers affiliated with the National Science Foundation. Speed: 4.46 teraflops.

  4. France's Atomic Energy Commission employs a Tera supercomputer to ensure the safety and reliability of the country's nuclear weapons arsenal. Speed: 3.98 teraflops.

  5. The National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center's supercomputer handles research projects ranging from software design to alternative patterns of gene splicing. Speed: 3.05 teraflops.

  6. Los Alamos National Laboratory researchers use their new supercomputer to conduct nuclear simulations. Speed: 2.92 teraflops.

  7. ASCI Red—the older, weaker sibling of ASCI White—also ensures the safety of the nation's nuclear stockpile. Speed: 2.38 teraflops.

  8. Cheetah, Oak Ridge National Laboratory's new supercomputer, recently ran a new climate simulation model for scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. Speed: 2.31 teraflops.

  9. The third member of Livermore's ASCI family, ASCI Blue, also runs nuclear weapons aging simulations. Speed: 2.14 teraflops.

  10. At the IBM/U.S. Army Research Laboratory in Poughkeepsie, New York, an IBM pSeries 690 Turbo supercomputer is used for weapons development. Speed: 2.00 teraflops.

Livermore's ASCI White—the former supercomputer champ—can hold six times as much data as all the books in the Library of Congress.
Photograph courtesy of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

"Whose Computer Is Fastest of All?." Find a list of the top 500 supercomputers at www.top500.org.

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