July 20, 2001

Lab's ASCI White rated the world's fastest

Four National Nuclear Security Administration supercomputers finished in the top six among the world’s fastest computers. On the list, issued in June by TOP500, the Laboratory took the number one and the number four slots with its ASCI White and ASCI Blue Pacific computers.

Both machines are part of NNSA’s Accelerated Strategic Computer Initiative, a 10-year program that is striving to reach 100-trillions calculations per second by 2005. That speed is necessary to help scientists maintain the safety and reliability of the U.S. nuclear stockpile by simulating — in three dimensions — the aging and operation of nuclear weapons.

Accurate computer simulation is essential to retain confidence in the stewardship transition of world’s most complex arsenal to a new generation of scientists and engineers that has neither designed nor tested a nuclear weapon.

"The Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative, or ASCI, is the backbone of our stockpile stewardship program," said Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham. "This independent ranking confirms our technology leadership to support our nuclear stockpile. Many skeptics labeled this technology advancement ‘impossible’ just five years ago."

Both Livermore machines use thousands of IBM RS/6000 processors — commercial, off-the-shelf technology — wired together in complex ways to solve problems that would have taken tens-of-thousands of years to complete on computers produced just a few years ago. And both machines, when delivered, exceeded procurement contract specifications.

Originally ordered in July 1996 for $93 million, the Blue Pacific computer performs 3.9 trillion operations per second.

Just one year ago, 28 moving vans delivered the top-ranked White machine to its Livermore home in a climate-controlled room the size of two basketball courts. The $110 million machine, computes at 12.3 trillion operations per second — approaching four times Blue Pacific’s speed. ASCI White uses 8,192 IBM processors and a rotating storage memory equivalent to 300,000,000 books. That’s a far cry from its original predecessor, a room-sized 1952 Univac from Remington Rand, with a memory equivalent of only 1,000 words, or less than four text pages.

"The remarkable ASCI successes to date not only convert skeptics, but provide the foundation for the next phase in our race to build the Tera-Scale Facility and achieve 100-trillion calculations per second by 2005. We’re not yet halfway there. And the slope toward this goal is as steep as the one we’ve just climbed. But I feel certain that if provided the resources we can do it," said Livermore ASCI program leader David Nowak.

Two other ASCI computers ranked within the top six: Sandia National Laboratories’ ASCI Red, by Intel, placed number three; and Los Alamos National Laboratory’s ASCI Blue Mountain, by SGI, ranked number six. The number two position went to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s IBM NERSC supercomputer, bringing to five the total number of Department of Energy machines among the top six.

The fastest performance while processing the Linpack timing code is used in ranking the computers. The TOP500 list has been updated twice yearly since June 1993. The full list can be viewed at www.top500.org.