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Monday, August 20, 2001

Fastest computer

A US government laboratory unveiled the most powerful computer in the world last week, programmed to simulate the explosion of a nuclear bomb.

ASCI White, a $-110 million computer squeezed into enough refrigerator-sized units to fill a couple of basketball courts, was officially unveiled by scientists aiming to simulate nuclear tests the government has promised not to carry out for real.

The beast, built by International Business Machines Corp. from off-the-shelf processors with a souped-up version of its commercial operating system, AIX, weighs as much as 17 full-size elephants, takes as much cooling as 765 homes, and can do in a second what a calculator would take 10 million years, IBM says.

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, a government-funded laboratory that is home to the machine, aims to find out a bit quicker than that how an atomic bomb blows up so that it does not have to test any more.

"We are in a race against time as we have to pass the baton to a new generation of nuclear engineers who have neither designed nor tested a nuclear weapon," David Schwoegler, a spokesman for Lawrence Livermore said.

The last US underground test was about 10 years ago.

Like gunfighters after the taming of the West, US nuclear scientists who have designed and exploded nuclear weapons are a dying breed. Computers are being brought in to fill the gap.

The 10-year Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative, ASCI, is about halfway done.

It aims to produce a computer that can simulate a nuclear explosion by 2005, with a machine that can do 100 trillion calculations per second, compared to ASCI White's 12.3 trillion.

Compaq Computer Corp. is working on an intermediate step and plans to deliver within a couple of years a 30-trillion per second calculator.




Net access to expand

ASIA-PACIFIC countries will expand the region's high-speed, low-cost Internet access network to remote areas of the sphere next year, a Japanese official told Reuters.

The system, which uses satellite communication, would make international video conferencing easier than through conventional telecommunications methods, and would allow, for example, doctors in one country to examine patients in remote areas.

The network currently only connects some of the countries such as Thailand and Fiji that in 1996 agreed to set up a high-speed communication network for the region.

By hiring more satellites, the network will be able to cover a wider area, spanning from China and India to the Pacific islands, he added.

Internet use is not common in many parts of the region because of the delay in installing wire-based communications.