June 10, 2008
Yesterday, IBM and the U.S. Department of Energy announced that IBM's new RoadRunner supercomputer
is the first such machine capable of executing more than one quadrillion (1,000 trillion) floating point
operations per second. The computation rate was otherwise known as one petaflop.
The new record-breaking supercomputer will be housed at the National Nuclear Security Administration's
Los Alamos National Laboratory. Occupying 6,000 square feet and weighing 500,000 pounds, it's not likely to
be moved to satisfy redecorating whims.
The $100 million computer is about twice as fast as the current supercomputing record holder, IBM's
Blue Gene system at Lawrence Livermore National Lab.
IBM actually calls RoadRunner a hybrid supercomputer. It combines 12,960 IBM cell chips, which power
Sony's PlayStation 3 video game machine, with 6,948 dual-core AMD Opteron chips and 80 terabytes of memory.
The operating system runs on Red Hat Linux Enterprise version 5.0.
IBM characterizes RoadRunner's thirst for energy (3.9 megawatts) as miserly, noting that at 376
million calculations per watt, it's likely to rank at the top of the Green 500 list of energy-efficient
supercomputers, when that list is updated later at the end of June.
IBM's Blue Gene holds the first place on the February 2008 Green 500 list, with 357.23 million calculations
per watt. It would take about 100,000 of today's fastest laptops to equal Roadrunner's computational power.
Overall, since 1998, supercomputing power has increased 1,000-fold, according to IBM. In what can be
seen as either a swipe at Detroit or pride in Moore's Law, IBM observes that if the internal combustion
engine improved at a similar rate, cars today would be getting 200,000 miles to the gallon.
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