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A Trillion Calculations. Done. Next? Parallel Computing Gives Device Power Of 7,264 Top Processors

Researchers said Monday they have designed a supercomputer that can handle a staggering 1 trillion mathematical operations per second, a breakthrough computer experts likened to the running of the first four-minute mile.

The $55 million computer, designed by the Energy Department and Intel Corp., largely will be used by government scientists to simulate nuclear weapons tests that are now banned by international treaty, officials said.

Researchers said the machine also could be used for complicated weather forecasting, genetic research, space research and a host of other sophisticated experiments.

The new supercomputer can handle 667 million instructions in the time it takes a bullet to travel one foot, researchers boast. In 15 seconds, it can crunch through calculations that would take today’s average desktop computers about two days to process.

“This is a new era in computing,” said Jack Dongarra, a noted supercomputing expert and a professor at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

Intel accomplished the feat by essentially wiring together thousands of today’s most powerful desktop computers.

Using a technique known as “massively parallel computing,” engineers linked together 7,264 high-end versions of Intel’s popular Pentium processor - the mainstay of most personal computers - and programmed them to operate in concert.

“Like an orchestra leader with 7,000 instruments in it, getting them all to play off the same piece of music is a big challenge,” said Edward A. Masi, an Intel vice president.

The system eventually will comprise more than 9,000 Pentium Pro processors (each running at 200 megahertz) and will be able to operate at 1.4 teraflops - or 1.4 trillion operations per second - Masi said.

It will be housed in a 1,600-square-foot room at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, an Energy Department facility.