Machine Design

World's fastest supercomputer at NASA Ames

The fastest computer in the world hit a record calculation rate of 42.7 trillion calculations/sec and resides at NASA Ames, Calif.

The Columbia, a 10,240-cpu system made of Intel Itanium 2 processors, was built by Silicon Graphics Inc., Mountain View, Calif., ( from 20 of its scalable Altrix computer systems.

After installing just 16 of Columbia's 20 systems, the computer hit the sustained performance of over 40 teraflops, eclipsing the performance of every supercomputer operating today. The results top Japan's Earth Simulator, rated at 35.86 teraflops, and IBM's Blue Gene/L experiment, rated at 36.01 teraflops. Results were scored after running the Linpack benchmark on 8,192 of the supercomputer's processors. Columbia also hit an 88% efficiency rating on the benchmark, supposedly the highest attained in a test on large systems.

The computer has already tackled a few jobs such as running models of the Earth's atmosphere for long-range weather forecasting. "Columbia scientists can predict hurricane paths a full five days before the storms reach landfall," says Walter Brooks, division chief, Advanced Supercomputing Division, NASA. "That's an improvement over today's two-day warnings and one that may have advantages for saving human life and property." In addition, NASA's Shuttle can be "launched" 100 times in a week on this system, giving engineers more dry-runs and analytic tools to make space travel safer.

NASA's 10,240-processor Columbia supercomputer is built from 20 SGI Altrix systems, each powered by 512 Intel Itanium 2 processors. Columbia is housed at the NASA Advanced Supercomputing facility in Mountain View, Calif.

SGI says it hit another speed record by manufacturing and installing the Columbia in 120 days.

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