SAN FRANCISCO – The Energy Department has awarded International Business Machines a contract to build a supercomputer capable of 1,000 trillion calculations a second, using an array of 16,000 Cell processor chips that the company designed for the new PlayStation 3 video game machine.
The initial phase of the contract will be for $35 million, the department said Wednesday. There will be two more construction phases, with completion and installation of the system scheduled in 2008. The total cost is expected to be $110 million.
The choice of the Cell chip, which was initially designed with Sony and Toshiba for video game and animation applications, indicates how much the computer industry has been transformed in the past decade. It is now being driven largely by technologies originally intended for home and consumer applications.
The machine, called Roadrunner, will be installed at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, and it is intended to safeguard and sustain the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile. The contract is one of several initiatives made in response to plans by Japan to build computers intended to break the so-called petaflop supercomputer barrier of 1,000 trillion calculations a second.
The Los Alamos system is one of five efforts in the United States to reach petaflop status by 2010.
The Roadrunner will use the Sony Cell Broadband Engine as a specialized processor, with a corresponding array of Advanced Micro Devices Opteron microprocessors. This kind of hybrid design is increasingly being used as designers seek ever-greater computing speeds.
“It’s like adding a turbo to a car engine,” said Steven Wallach, a supercomputer designer who is a consultant at Los Alamos. “Hybrid computing will become a standard way of enhancing the performance of off-the-shelf processors.”
Fuente: International Herald Tribune, John Markoff