Supercomputers in US put brawn over brains

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 November, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 18 November, 2002, 12:00am

People can say all they want about these slick, new mobile phones in the market. Not interested.

They can plan their Christmas gifts around the latest Internet-ready hand-held computers. Not interested. They can even praise the Tablet PC from here to Redmond, Washington. Get a life.

The bottom line is the bells and whistles touted by the makers of those machines do not amount to a hill of beans compared to what the awesome power of supercomputers deliver.

For the hardcore computing aficionado, bigger is better. Thankfully, these bad boys were in the news again last week.

Supercomputers - the world superheavyweight wrestling champions of data-crunching - are typically used for scientific and engineering applications that involve handling large databases and processing information at incredible speed.

Last week, a system developed by NEC again topped the twice-a-year ranking of the world's fastest supercomputers.

This ranking has reportedly alarmed scientists in the United States, a country that pioneered the creation of these machines and which continues to push the envelope in solving the most complex computing problems, including fresh demand for collectible Snoopy souvenirs at McDonald's. But that's another story.

Called the Earth Simulator, the NEC supercomputer packs more power although it uses a smaller number of processors than the best US-made machines. It uses 'just' 5,104 processors, compared with 8,192 chips that power an IBM supercomputer at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

There's also a unique public relations spin to this placing by NEC that should warm the hearts of computer geeks and the WWF, that is the World Wildlife Fund not the World Wrestling Federation, now called the WWE. The scientific community is impressed with how the Japanese use their supercomputer for research in Earth-related sciences.

However, the Americans have been criticised for using their wealth of supercomputing resources (seven of the world's top 10 supercomputers are in the US) to do plenty of research on weapons of mass destruction.

Try to compute that, George.

Graphic: nec18gwz