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$45 Million Grant Awarded to Buy Supercomputer
by JOHN MARKOFF
he National Science Foundation announced yesterday that it had made a $45
million award to the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center to buy what will be the
world's fastest nonmilitary supercomputer when it is completely installed
next year, Compaq, the computer's maker, said.
The award, which was announced Thursday in Washington after the foundation
reviewed proposals from five competition scientific centers, is intended to
reinvigorate the nation's civilian computational science resources, which
have increasingly fallen behind the resources available to the military in
"The general perception is that we're under-resourced when compared to the
military programs," said Robert Borchers, division director of the advanced
computational infrastructure and research division of the National Science
The military has been spending heavily on supercomputing as part of the
Advanced Strategic Computing Initiative, which is intended to insure the
nation's nuclear weapons stockpile maintains its effectiveness during the
nuclear testing treaty that bans weapons testing.
The announcement is likely to shake up the supercomputer industry. The other
two major competitors were machines designed by I.B.M. and Intel, who have
recently been the most powerful forces in the supercomputer industry. Now,
however, Compaq may emerge as a third force in the competition.
The foundation's award is also a boost for the Pittsburgh Supercomputer
Center, which has been in jeopardy since March of 1997 when the foundation
announced it planned to cut in half the number of supercomputer centers it
finances -- from four to two.
The remaining two centers are the National Center for Supercomputer
Applications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the San
Diego Supercomputer Center at the University of California at San Diego.
The Pittsburgh supercomputer will be designed and built by Compaq Computer
Corporation and the new machine will have a peak performance of about six
trillion mathematical operations per second - or six teraflops - when it is
completely installed some time in the second half of next year.
The most powerful military supercomputer is a 12 teraflop supercomputer
called ASCI White, which is being installed at Lawrence Livermore National
Laboratory in Livermore, Calif. The machine will cost $110 million, take up
two basketball courts worth of floor space, weigh 106 tons and will 8.192
The Compaq computer will be based on 2.728 Alpha processors, which will be
organized into 682 separate nodes and will cost about $36 million.
The new computer will be shared by different scientific disciplines,
including materials science and climate modeling. Because the new machine
will have six times the power of the current fastest nonmilitary computer,
Mr. Borchers said it was possible that it would be able to do fundamentally
"I suspect in the areas of materials and biological science it will be
possible to make significant advances," he said.
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