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Japanese supercomputer turns U.S., Big Blue green

The world's speediest computer cranks out the calculations so quickly, the very name "supercomputer" doesn't do it justice. The Earth Simulator is fast, huge, and it's turned Uncle Sam, as well as Big Blue, green with envy.

The world's fastest computer is so big, it needs a house the size of a hangar. The Earth Simulator in Yokohama, Japan is like a huge weathercaster, tracking sea temperatures, rainfall and crustal movement to predict natural disasters.

'Supercomputer' seems to be an understatement. The $350 million machine is more like a super duper computer -- it runs 35.6 trillion calculations per second. That's almost five times faster than its closest competitor and as fast as the top five U.S. supercomputers combined.

Scientists say the increased speed alone offers new science. The Earth Simulator can accurately predict the destructive path of typhoons and volcanic eruptions, as well as identify likely epicenters for future earthquakes, allowing the Japanese government to target particular dams, buildings and highways for reinforcement.

Scientists hope the Earth Simulator eventually will be able to track the movement of a pandemic like AIDS, calculate the spread of a virus after a bioterrorist attack, and help researchers discover new drugs.

Tokyo-based NEC Corp. built the computer using vector processing, a technology most U.S. companies dropped because they considered it outdated and too expensive.

The U.S. Department of Energy admitted it has now fallen behind Japan in climate science research, but companies are cocksure. IBM Corp. says it will bring the title of world's fastest computer back to the U.S. in 2004.

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