Contact: Kara Villamil or Mona S. Rowe
ISSUED 11/8/98


RIKEN - BNL Supercomputer Wins Gordon Bell Prize at SC98 Conference!

DOE Press Release

More information on QCDSP can be found at
More information on RHIC can be found at
More information on visualization at BNL can be found at


Data-intensive physics computing and 3-D visualization also at BNL display


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.

QCDSP: The World's Fastest Non-Commercial Supercomputer

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 particles.

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.

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