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Dr Takemitsu Kunio, head of NEC's research and development in Tokyo, said the company would "never give up" in the battle for supercomputer supremacy.

Speaking at a press conference, marking the 10th anniversary of the company's research labs in Bonn, Kunio dismissed suggestions that IBM would soon knock NEC from the top of the supercomputer charts. But he acknowledged that NEC, IBM and some others are in a running battle.

Company executives hinted strongly that NEC will soon announce the successor to its current SX-6 model. "If you came to speak to us about buying a supercomputer, we'd probably be talking about some number other than six," a company spokesman told the assembled press.

Improving supercomputer performance is one of the main areas of research in Bonn. Dr Guy Lonsdale heads a team working on its Message Passing (MPI-2) programming interface for NEC supercomputers. "If you take nothing else away today, remember this: MPI is what makes a parallel computer work," he said.

He explained that MPI is the interface layer that allows application programmes to be divided sensibly among the computer's massive array of parallel processors.

In the case of Japan's Earth Simulator, currently the fastest peak perfoming super computer in the world, the MPI is the reason the Earth Simulator's real world processing power is around 50 per cent of its peak rate, as opposed the the 10 or 15 per cent achieved by other computers, Lonsdale says.

IBM currently holds the record for the most powerful supercomputer in Europe installed at the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts. The machine, based on IBM's eServer p690 systems, is capable of a maximum performance of 8.9 teraflops. ®

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