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IBM's Got A Big, Bad Computer
3:00 a.m. Jun. 29, 2000 PDT

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ASCI White is hooked to a bank of imaging workstations that convert data from a simulation into a visualization of the detonation, which is projected onto a giant screen.

Weapons scientists will be able to see the actual atoms, said IBM's Jardine.

"I've been told the physicists come away with a feeling of awe," Jardine said. "They say: 'That's what it looks like.' They finally get to see the physics."

Dr. David Nowak, the ASCI program leader at Lawrence Livermore, said ASCI White will allow scientists to design extremely complex simulations and see the results in less time than ever before. The length of the tests vary, running from minutes to months, but the most complex involve thousands of variables and generate terabytes of data, he said.

The supercomputer will also be used for non-weapons research. Twice a year, it will be turned over to university researchers for three or four days for work on astrophysics, materials science and drug discovery.

Dick Sherman, president of RCI, a consortium of supercomputer vendors and users, said it is likely ASCI White will lead to scientific breakthroughs that weren't possible with the previous generation of machines.

"It may help tackle problems that haven't been tackled before," he said. "Universities are hungry for high computing access and this would help them."

Despite its astounding speed and complexity, the current ASCI White can't really deliver the most minute details of a nuclear blast that scientists want. For that, the ASCI program estimates it needs a 100 teraflop machine.

AIBM said it plans to deliver an even bigger, faster version of ASCI White by 2004.

If IBM manages it, massively parallel supercomputers will be evolving at a rate that far outstrips Moore's Law, which dictates computing power doubles every 18 months.

Both IBM and Lawrence Livermore say this rate of change will mean today's hundred-million-dollar supercomputers are the widely affordable workstation of choice within a decade.

"We can solve the problems today that a university researcher will be able to solve in 10, 12 years from now," Nowak said. "It's a window into the future."

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