updated 8/25/2006 1:44:42 PM ET 2006-08-25T17:44:42

The most powerful supercomputer available for general scientific research in the United States has doubled its speed, officials said Friday.

The 54-cabinet Cray XT3 supercomputer at Tennessee's Oak Ridge National Laboratory has been upgraded from 25 teraflops to 54 teraflops, or 54 trillion mathematical calculations per second, they said.

"It is probably the fifth-fastest machine" in the world, said Thomas Zacharia, associate laboratory director. "It is clearly the fastest open science machine in the U.S. today."

The supercomputer, dubbed "Jaguar," was ranked 13th fastest before the upgrade. A list of the 500 most powerful computers in the world is compiled by scientists at the University of Mannheim in Germany, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and the University of Tennessee.

"The list is a very simple measure, and it is a good thing, obviously," Zacharia said. "But the real winner in these things are the scientists who are running these machines.

"(They) have been very pleased at the initial performance of this upgraded machine," he said. "It is a terrific scientific instrument."

The overhaul was the first step in a multiyear, nearly $200 million contract between Seattle-based Cray Inc. and the U.S. Department of Energy to increase Oak Ridge's supercomputing capability to 1,000 trillion calculations per second, or one petaflop, by 2009.

The current world leader is the nearly six-times-faster 280.6 teraflop IBM Blue Gene/L deployed at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and used for national defense purposes.

The Department of Energy has committed to make Oak Ridge's Jaguar available for unclassified peer-reviewed research at least 80 percent of the time.

DreamWorks Animation is interested in using the machine to develop new algorithms for duplicating the effects of light and shade — called "ray tracing" — in 3-D animation, Zacharia said. The results could show up in the company's animated feature films or in medical and occupational training.

Boeing Co. is hoping the supercomputer will lead to lighter, more energy-efficient airplanes, and General Atomics Co. wants to do fusion energy research, duplicating the power of the sun to light homes.

Another 68 cabinets will be added around November to double the supercomputer's speed again to around 100 teraflops. A year later, the installation of new processors should push capacity to 250 teraflops. The lab is expected to swap out Jaguar for the next-generation Cray supercomputer, currently code-named "Baker," in late 2008. At 1,000 teraflops, Baker would be roughly three times faster than any existing computer in the world.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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