Contact: Kara Villamil or Mona S. Rowe
ORLANDO, FL - Just weeks after unveiling the world's fastest
multipurpose non-commercial supercomputer, the team that built
the 0.6-teraflop physics machine is showcasing its unique architecture
and capabilities at the SC98 High Performance Networking and Computing
conference being held here from November 7 through 13.
The team, from the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National
Laboratory and Columbia University, is showing off a sample crate
of motherboards from the massively parallel machine at its booth
in the research exhibits hall.
They are also spotlighting the inexpensive 'do it yourself'
construction that kept costs to around $1.8 million for the entire
project. The Brookhaven supercomputer is a finalist for the Gordon
Bell prize for price-performance at SC98.
"We've shown that you can get a lot of computing bang
for relatively few bucks, while optimizing the architecture for
the problems that users will tackle," said Bob Mawhinney,
one of the Columbia physicists who led the design team for the
Brookhaven supercomputer and its 0.4-teraflop sister machine at
Columbia's physics department.
The supercomputer was funded by the Japanese RIKEN laboratory
as part of its support for a physics research center at Brookhaven.
Called the QCDSP supercomputer, the machine is designed for
advanced research into quantum chromodynamics, or QCD, the model
of matter based on the "strong force" that binds quarks
and gluons in the particles that make up the center of every atom
in the universe.
Among other projects, the computer's speed will allow scientists
to simulate and predict the behavior of subatomic particles and
phenomena that will actually be produced at BNL's newest "atom
smasher," the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider or RHIC, which
will begin operations in 1999. One such phenomenon is the quark-gluon
plasma that is thought to have existed shortly after the creation
of the universe.
Also on tap at the BNL SC98 booth will be displays on the data-intensive computing effort that will collect and analyze RHIC data, and compare it with predictions calculated on the QCDSP.
A third highlight will be collaborative efforts in visualization
of scientific data taken at BNL's many research facilities, in
fields such as biomedicine, materials science, biology, environmental
and earth sciences, and theoretical physics. These visualizations
are viewed in stereoscope using techniques developed at Brookhaven.
The QCDSP supercomputer stands almost nine feet high and is
mounted in six large racks that are water-cooled to keep the machine
from overheating. There are a total of 12,288 nodes, or processors,
in the computer, providing the calculational power needed to handle
the demands of tracking the movement of millions of virtual subatomic
A specially designed custom computer chip called a node gate
array, or NGA, handles communications between the nodes and is
at the heart of the supercomputer's design. Each NGA is paired
with a Texas Instruments 50-megahertz processor and two megabytes
of DRAM to make a node or "daughterboard," forming a
single processing unit of the machine. Sixty-four daughterboards
are attached to make each large structure called a "motherboard."
There are 192 motherboards in all.
"Essentially, this computer turns space and time into
a four-dimensional lattice, which can be thought of as a three-dimensional
grid at any moment of time," said Mawhinney. "The computer
can be used for many grid-oriented problems and in our problem,
the grid gives reference points for calculating where particles
are at any given moment."
"The smaller the boxes in the grid or the lattice,"
Mawhinney continued, "the more precise we can be in our calculations.
Of course, the smaller and more numerous the boxes, the more computing
power is required. But with this machine, the calculations will
be more precise than ever before."
The U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory
creates and operates major facilities available to university,
industrial and government personnel for basic and applied research
in the physical, biomedical and environmental sciences, and in
selected energy technologies. The Laboratory is operated by Brookhaven
Science Associates, a not-for-profit research management company,
under contract with the U.S. Department of Energy.