UPTON, NY - The fastest multi-purpose non-commercial supercomputer in theworld was unveiled Oct. 16 at the U.S. Department of Energy's BrookhavenNational Laboratory.With a top operating speed of 600 billion calculations per second, or 0.6teraflops, the supercomputer is the 12th fastest over all in the world. Ata cost of only $1.8 million, it is also one of the least expensive.
Scientists will use the machine to carry out forefront physics research,some so complicated it can only be done using the world's fastest computers.
The computer was designed and built by scientists and computer specialistsfrom Columbia University and BNL, and funded by the Japanese RIKENlaboratory as part of its support of the RIKEN-BNL Research Centerestablished in 1997 at BNL.
"This computer is a tribute to the creativity and resourcefulness of BNL,Columbia University and RIKEN Laboratory scientists who created it," saidSecretary of Energy Bill Richardson. "This generation of machine and muchlarger ones soon to follow will be the new tools of discovery andinnovation for science and society to solve complex problems in globalclimate, energy, technologies and basic research."
Called the RIKEN-BNL QCD supercomputer, the machine is optimized foradvanced research into quantum chromodynamics, or QCD, the model of matterbased on the "strong force" that binds quarks and gluons in the particlesthat make up the center of every atom in the universe.Among other projects, the computer's speed will allow scientists to predictand analyze the behavior of subatomic particles and phenomena that will beproduced at BNL's newest "atom smasher," the Relativistic Heavy IonCollider (RHIC), now under construction.
RHIC aims to create the quark-gluon plasma, a form of matter not seen sincejust after the Big Bang. During that fleeting instant, quarks and gluonsare thought to have existed independently of their usual bonds, beforeprotons and neutrons "condensed" out of the super-hot plasma.
"This is what Brookhaven Lab is all about," said BNL Director JohnMarburger. "We have a strong collaboration, including a major regionaluniversity and an international partner, working on one of the mostdifficult and basic problems at the frontier of science, and at the sametime we are strengthening Long Island's economy through direct investment."Over $1,000,000 in components for the supercomputer were purchased fromLong Island firms.
The machine is a finalist for the Gordon Bell prize for price-performanceat the upcoming SC98 High Performance Networking and Computing conferencein November.
"All of us at the RIKEN-BNL Research Center are eager to put thissupercomputer to the test in our attempts to solve some of the mostpressing questions of modern physics," said the center's director, NobelPrize winner T.D. Lee.
A Unique Machine for Physics
The supercomputer stands almost nine feet high and is mounted in six largeracks that are water-cooled to keep the machine from overheating.
There are a total of 12,288 nodes, or processors, in the computer,providing the calculational power needed to handle the demands of trackingthe movement of millions of virtual subatomic particles.
A specially designed custom computer chip called a node gate array, or NGA,handles communications between the nodes and is at the heart of thesupercomputer's design. Each NGA is paired with a Texas Instruments50-megahertz processor and two megabytes of DRAM to form a singleprocessing unit or "node" of the machine. Each node is constructed on asmall printed circuit board called a "daughterboard." Sixty-four nodes arecombined and attached to a larger structure called a "motherboard." Thereare 192 motherboards in all.
"Essentially, this computer turns space and time into a four-dimensionallattice, which can be thought of as a three-dimensional grid at any momentof time," said Robert Mawhinney, one of the Columbia physicists who led thedesign team for the RIKEN-BNL machine and its 0.4-teraflop sister machineat Columbia's physics department. "The computer can be used for manygrid-oriented problems and in our problem, the grid gives reference pointsfor calculating where particles are at any given moment."
"The smaller the boxes in the grid or the lattice," Mawhinney continued,"the more precise we can be in our calculations. Of course, the smaller andmore numerous the boxes, the more computing power is required. But withthis machine, the calculations will be more precise than ever before."
The supercomputer may be of world-class stature, but it has local roots.Nearly one-third of the components used to build the machine were purchasedfrom Long Island firms in a competitive bidding process.
The two largest contracts were awarded to electronic componentsdistributors Marshall Industries of Hauppauge, for $540,000, and NuHorizons Electronics Corp. of Melville, for $236,000. In a critical step,the assembly of all the daughterboards and motherboards was performed byAJC Electronics of Syosset under an $89,000 contract. The final process ofinstalling and debugging the complete system was handled largely by BNL'sComputing & Communications staff.
Other Long Island companies that supplied components include: Hadco Corp.of Uniondale, for more than $115,000 in printed circuit boards; BellMicroproducts of Smithtown, $7,800; Anthem Electronics of Commack, $6,000;and Dove Electronics of East Setauket, $500.
"We were glad that much of what we needed was available through localsuppliers," said Lee. "To build such a large computer from scratch is amassive task, but the job was made easier by the excellent service wereceived from these companies."
The RIKEN laboratory, whose name is short for "Rikagaku Kenkyusho," meaningInstitute of Physical and Chemical Research, is supported by the JapaneseScience and Technology Agency. It is located near Tokyo.
Brookhaven National Laboratory carries out basic and applied research inthe physical, biomedical and environmental sciences and in selected energytechnologies. Brookhaven is operated by Brookhaven Science Associates, anonprofit research management organization, under contract with the U.S.Department of Energy.
Note: More information on the supercomputer is available on the Web athttp://www.ccd.bnl.gov/riken_bnl/qcd_project/qcdp.html
The above story is based on materials provided by Brookhaven National Laboratory. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.
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