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NASA can see clearly now using the Hyperwall-2

July 28, 2008

by Mark Ollig

On average most computer screens use about 786,000 individual pixels or “dots” which when coded right, produces a clear and crisp image.

Now, imagine looking at an image on a computer screen made up of 256,000,000 pixels.

That’s right, an amazing 256 million or one quarter billion pixels shown on a huge 23 foot wide by 10 foot tall liquid crystal display wall made up of 128 individual high resolution screens.

The world’s highest display resolution screen is called the “Hyperwall-2” and was developed by the scientists and engineers in the NASA Advanced Supercomputing (NAS) Division at the Ames Research Center in Calif.

Ames also worked in partnership with Colfax International, based in Sunnyvale, Calif.

Colfax calls the Hyperwall-2 display the “NASA Visualization Cluster.”

This high resolution computer system is powered by 128 graphical processing units and 1,024 (AMD Opteron) processor cores.

The processing power equals 74 teraflops (one teraflop equals one trillion floating point operations per second).

The Hyperwall-2 memory consists of an enormous data storage capacity of 475 terabytes (one terabyte equals one trillion bytes).

Going back to 1995, there was one computer display screen I thought was the best ever made.

It was the display screen on my trusty old HP OmniBook 600CT notebook computer.

The OmniBook had (for its day) a modern “Thin Film Transistor” or TFT “active-matrix” display screen which turned out some vividly crisp colors along with clear and sharp images.

Reading text on this screen was very easy on the eyes, too. I wish I still had the ol’ OminBook today.

Another advantage of the Hyperwall-2 display is that it enables scientists to more quickly access and study existing archived data information than otherwise would have been possible.

In addition, the Hyperwall-2 provides NASA scientists and engineers with “ultra-high resolution” images and videos to analyze the results of current research being performed.

This new display system is being used today by researchers to view and analyze results from NASA’s “high-fidelity modeling” and simulation projects.

These projects also support the safety of new space exploration vehicle designs along with atmospheric re-entry analysis needed for the space shuttle.

Other projects include the study of global weather climate change and earthquakes.

On July 14, 2008, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger visited the NASA Advanced Supercomputing Division where he received a presentation of the Hyperwall-2.

The Hyperwall-2 is supporting the state of California in their fire fighting efforts.

Gov. Schwarzenegger was given a behind-the-scenes update regarding NASA’s assistance to firefighters battling California wildfires.

With amazing clarity, the Hyperall-2 can display the location of the fires, and will even project their path.

Governor Schwarzenegger said the number of fires makes it all the more important to use every tool at the state’s disposal to protect property and save lives.

“It is great to be here today at NASA, at the NASA Ames Research Center to see one of the most exciting new weapons in our firefighting arsenal,” Governor Schwarzenegger said.

“The hyperwall-2 offers a ‘super computer-scale’ environment that is truly up to the task of visualization and exploration of the very large datasets routinely produced by NASA supercomputers and instruments,” said Bryan Biegel, NASA advanced supercomputing division deputy chief.”

“The system also will be used to get highly detailed information on how NAS supercomputers are operating, enabling staff to quickly and precisely diagnose problems or inefficiencies with the supercomputers or the software running on them,” added Biegel.

To get an idea of the Hyperwall-2’s graphical processing power, envision combining the graphical processors of about 600 of today’s best video game consoles into one.

Imagine the fun of playing video games on a 23 foot wide by 10 foot tall liquid crystal display wall powered by 1,024 processor cores, with 74 teraflops worth of calculating power at your disposal.

This 128 screen Hyperwall-2 has more than 100 times the processing power of the original 49 screen “hyperwall” developed in 2002 by the NAS visualization team.

The Colfax International web site is at http://www.colfax-intl.com.

You can also check out the NASA Ames Research article at http://tinyurl.com/5u85dd.

The Hyperwall-2’s goal is to provide the means to visualize complex information in a way that’s easier for our human minds to understand.

Don’t forget to visit your humble bit_blogger’s “Web Site of The Week” forum to see some incredible pictures of the Hyperwall-2 display, along with more in-depth information. The forum is located at http://tinyurl.com/6aqejv.