Supercomputer blows away all others

IBM delivered the most powerful supercomputer in the world to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory this week - a system that will enable scientists to monitor the condition of nuclear weapons in the US stockpile without having to detonate them.

The $110 million computer system was shipped in 25 tractor-trailer trucks for the cross-country trip from an IBM facility in Poughkeepsie, New York, to the Energy Department laboratory 45 miles east of San Francisco.

The system, code-named ASCI White, has attained a peak performance of 12.3 trillion operations per second, or 12.3 teraflops. That is about three times faster than the world's most powerful computer to date (3.87 teraflops), according to IBM program director Tom Haine.

In the past, the United States had to detonate nuclear weapons underground to see if they still worked. The new supercomputer system will enable scientists to keep track of the state of the weapons by simulating their condition and aging.

David Cooper, Lawrence Livermore's chief information officer, said the supercomputer will be able to contribute to breakthroughs in other areas, including global finances, pollution and weather monitoring.

The computer is 1,000 times more powerful than "Deep Blue," the IBM computer that defeated world chess champion Gary Kasparov in 1997.

It is so powerful that it would take one person with a calculator 10 million years to do the number of calculations that ASCI White can do in one second, according to IBM. And it weighs 106 tons - the equivalent of 17 full-size elephants.

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