IBM prepares to roll out Roadrunner

Computer giant designing most powerful supercomputer in the world

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By  Published  September 15, 2006

IBM is building the world’s most powerful supercomputer at a lab in New Mexico and will start shipping it later this year.

The machine, codenamed Roadrunner, is being designed at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and will be four times more powerful than the world’s current fastest machine, IBM’s BlueGene/L supercomputer.

It is made up of conventional computer processors and the new cell chip designed for Sony’s forthcoming PlayStation 3 (PS3) games console.

Roadrunner will run at a rate of “petaflop speeds” — one petaflop being equivalent to 1,000 trillion calculations per second. At its fastest speed it will be able to carry out 1.6 thousand trillion calculations per second. Its predecessor BlueGene/L can only run at a rate of teraflops — a trillion calculation per second speeds.

Roadrunner is being built at a laboratory owned by the US Department of Energy and will be used in the department’s Stockpile Stewardship Program to ensure that the US nuclear weapons stock pile remains safe and reliable.

BlueGene/L has also been used for this programme but when it is completed, Roadrunner will be capable of much more. The machine will be made up of 16,000 standard processors alongside 16,000 cell processors which were designed for the PS3 and are capable of 256billion calculations per second.

Each of those chip cells is made up of eight processors, which are controlled by a master unit that assigns tasks to each processor.

Scientists have harnessed the power of the cell chip for another project — the folding@home programme which is being developed by scientists at Stanford University in California, US. The programme uses each individual machine to process a small amount of data.

The presence of these cell chips means that the Roadrunner needs far fewer chips than other supercomputers.

On a supercomputer the different units within it are able to communicate with each other at all times, which is vital for running applications such as weather simulation in which a huge number of constantly changing and interacting variables can be tested.

Once the machine has been completed it will cover 12,000 square feet of floor space within the laboratory, the company said.

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