Monday, June 9, 2008

Petaflop Supercomputer Unveiled

The New York Times reports that a major supercomputing milestone has finally been hit: the first petaflop-capable computer has been unveiled by IBM and Los Alamos National Laboratory. Capable of 1.026 quadrillion calculations per second, the supercomputer—called Roadrunner—will be used to solve classified military problems, mostly relating to assessing nuclear weapons.

Before that, though, Roadrunner will be used for scientific simulations, including global climate modeling. The system includes 12,960 computer chips that are an improved version of the chip designed for the PlayStation 3. The remaining processors—103,680 of them—in Roadrunner are AMD Opteron chips. Overall Roadrunner is twice as powerful as the previous record-holder (also made by IBM) and uses some three megawatts of power, or about as much as a large suburban shopping center.

What does this mean for me and you? Nothing right now. But keep in mind that the supercomputers of yesteryear were about as powerful as the laptops of today. So maybe soon, you too will be able to simulate the first fractional seconds of a nuclear blast.

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