Clash of the Supercomputers

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WASHINGTON: Where is the fastest supercomputer in the world? Answer: The Energy Department. Next question: Which one is it? That's what was causing some head-scratching in the capital and Silicon Valley Tuesday. A David-and-Goliath struggle was taking place between IBM and their slingshot-wielding opponents at Silicon Graphics Inc. Big Blue's champion, known as Pacific Blue, was thought to be the world's fastest supercomputer when it was unveiled last month by tech enthusiast Al Gore. But that was before Silicon's surprise challenger entered the ring: Step forward, Blue Mountain.

The confusion arises over the fact that the two machines were given different speed tests. Speedy Pacific Blue scored big on the peak acceleration test, with 3.9 trillion calculations per second, but Blue Mountain lasts longer - it made 1.6 trillion calculations in a more sustained, industry-standard experiment called Linpack. So who gets the gold? "They're both the world's fastest in a certain sense," said Ernest Moniz, a diplomatic undersecretary of energy. The real winners: nuclear scientists, who get to use both their new toys to test bombs without the inconvenience of actually exploding them.