IBM and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory will jointly design the machine for the US Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration.
Called Blue Gene/L, the machine will be at least 15 times faster and 15 times more power efficient than today's fastest supercomputers, but will only take up one-fiftieth of the space, according to IBM.
Blue Gene/L will be built even while the original Blue Gene supercomputer project is still under construction. That project is expected to be completed by 2004, while Blue Gene/L will be ready in 2005.
The new machine is expected to operate at about 200 teraflops, or 200 trillion floating-point operations a second. This is bigger than the total computing power of the top 500 supercomputers in the world today, according to IBM.
Blue Gene/L will also include IBM systems that allow complex computers to do their own self-repairing, self-managing and self-configuring, making them easier to manage and set up.
IBM also unveiled a climate research supercomputer that it has built for the US National Centre for Atmospheric Research. That machine, which will more than double research capacity for climate studies, will be used to predict changes in the climate that can affect agricultural output, heating oil prices and global warming.
The latest Blue Gene/L project is designed to demonstrate commercial uses for the powerful machines, so IBM can market that end of its research for additional sales.
Researchers at the US laboratories plan to use Blue Gene/L to simulate physical events, including ageing of materials, fires and explosions, which require computational capability much greater than what is now available.