Japan is aiming for the supercomputer world title with a new computer that it claims will be 30 times faster than the existing crown-holder - IBM's Blue Gene/ L.

Japan's Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology has established a program with NEC , Hitachi, and several Japanese universities to develop a supercomputer by 2011 will be able to perform three quadrillion calculations per second (three petaflops), according to Toshihiko Hoshino, information, science and technology director at the ministry's Research and Promotion Bureau.

A computer running at such a speed would race ahead of today's fastest systems, which are typically capable of tens of trillions of calculations per second, or tens of teraflops. A teraflop is one trillion calculations per second and a petaflop is 1,000 teraflops.

The computer will be used for biotechnology and nanotechnology research for the benefit of Japanese industry, Hoshino said.

The supercomputer performance record is held today by the $100 million Blue Gene/L at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California. In March, the computer was clocked at 135.3 teraflops by the Linpack benchmark, which puts supercomputer systems through a series of mathematical tests. The computer's theoretical peak performance is 360 teraflops, according to IBM.

While the exact performance of Japan's supercomputer has yet to be decided, the government wants it to match or exceed the speeds that it predicts US supercomputers will have at the end of the decade, Hoshino said. "We predict that Blue Gene/L or its successors will be working at about 3 or 4 petaflops around 2010. Our target is to be at least the same speed, or faster."

The development will be split into a three-year research period and a two to three-year building and assembly period. During the research phase, NEC, which specialises in building supercomputers, will research optical interconnect technologies, while Hitachi will research circuit and transistor design, Hoshino said. He declined comment on the budget for the project.

Japan's fastest supercomputer today is NEC's SX6-model Earth Simulator, which in clocked a peak performance of nearly 36 teraflops in April 2002, according to the Linpack benchmark.