What is a supercomputer, how does it work and what are the most powerful supercomputers in the world? | TechBuzz

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As far as the development of technology is concerned, in the last forty years or so, things have changed so quickly that we now have supercomputers, which help us understand the world, organize data and work faster than ever before. But what exactly are supercomputers, how do they work and what are they used for? You will learn more about this in the rest of this article.

What is a supercomputer?

A supercomputer performs the same function of storing and processing data as an ordinary personal computer, but to such an extent that it is difficult to even imagine. Inside a supercomputer are several clusters of processing units that help perform operations a million times faster than your average laptop or desktop computer. While older computers were measured in IPS (instructions per second), supercomputers are measured in FLOPS (floating point operations per second). The higher the number, the more powerful the supercomputer.

Currently, the fastest supercomputer in the world is Frontier, developed by Hewlett Packard Enterprise, located in Tennessee, USA. The supercomputer cost an incredible $600 million, and each of its 74 cabinets weighs about 3,630 kilograms. Just this year, that computer dethroned the fastest Japanese supercomputer Fugaku, which previously held that title. Frontier is the world’s first exascale supercomputer, meaning it can perform one quintillion floating-point calculations (also called exaflops or EFLOPS) per second. For reference, Apple’s most powerful M1 Ultra chip has a speed of about 21 teraflops or TFLOPS (one trillion FLOPS). And while that’s impressive, you’ll be surprised to know that Japanese tech giant NEC Corporation’s Earth Simulator supercomputer has already reached speeds of around 36 teraflops back in 2002!

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titan supercomputer

What are supercomputers used for?

We’ve established that supercomputers are really fast, but what do they actually do? What is the use of them? Supercomputers can be used in any field that requires the processing of large amounts of data. Here are some examples:

Perhaps the simplest application of supercomputers is to improve the accuracy of weather forecasting. By collecting and processing more weather data and considering the accuracy of past predictions, supercomputers help us predict the weather more accurately and faster.

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Running simulations is a great way to predict the outcome of an activity without actually doing it. For example, flight simulations help to understand atmospheric drag and create more aerodynamic designs. This helps make aircraft safer and more fuel efficient. Another example is conducting simulations of nuclear tests and conducting experiments and demonstrations for military use. Tests that can be performed in simulation would otherwise have to be performed with real equipment that costs many times more.

Scientists usually work with large amounts of data, and supercomputers make the job easier by providing results faster. Over the past years, IBM’s Supercomputing Summit has helped explore a variety of useful things, enabling researchers to, for example, perform “a very large number of calculations in epidemiology, bio-informatics and molecular modeling”. Supercomputers are also useful for NASA scientists to “simulate the movement of air masses and water around planets to study Earth’s climate, search for exoplanets, study the behavior of black holes, or design aeronautical or space vehicles.”

NASA-supercomputer
And NASA has great needs for supercomputers, in order to make calculations easier in the infinitely large universe.

Super-fast development of super-computers

You may be aware of the famous Moore’s Law. He says that computers double in speed every two years, resulting in exponential growth in their processing power, allowing us to perform increasingly demanding tasks that we previously thought were impossible. Just ten years ago, concepts like virtual reality, cloud gaming, metaverse and many others were limited to the imagination of a select few experts and geeks. Today, we are already on our way to making all of this a reality, as computers are becoming more advanced than ever before. Fortunately, you don’t have to be an expert to take advantage of technology.

What are the most powerful and fastest supercomputers in the world?

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Now that we have said something about what supercomputers are and what they are for, it is time to say something about what are the most powerful and fastest supercomputers currently in the world.

Frontier (SAD)

  1. Frontier (SAD)

Frontier was built in 2022 by the American multinational IT company Hewlett Packard Enterprise in collaboration with its subsidiary Cray. It is the world’s first exascale supercomputer, meaning it can perform at least one quintillion (10^18) calculations per second.

Frontier has a total of 8,730,112 cores and achieves 1.1 EFLOPS (or exaflops) on the Linpack benchmark tests. It is based on the latest HPE Cray EX235a architecture and uses a combination of AMD’s third generation 64-core 2GHz 7A53s CPU and MI250X GPU. Frontier is also the world’s most efficient supercomputer, with an energy efficiency rating of 52.23 gigaflops/watt. Each of its 74 computer cabinets weighs about 8,000 pounds (~3.63 tons), and the entire system cost a staggering $600 million in total.

Fugaku (Japan)

  1. Fugaku (Japan)

Fugaku was built in 2020 by Japanese IT giant Fujitsu, as a successor to the company’s older K computer built in 2011. It was designed to solve the world’s biggest problems.

Fugaku was the world’s fastest supercomputer before it was dethroned by Frontier in May 2022. It has a total of 7,630,848 cores and achieves an impressive 442 PFLOPS (or petaflops), meaning it can do 442 quadrillion calculations per second. It runs on Fujitsu’s 48-core 2.2GHz A64FX processor and has a power efficiency rating of just 14.78 gigaflops/watt, which makes it pretty inefficient by today’s standards. The system cost more than a billion dollars, and each of its cabinets weighs 1.6 tons, for a total of about 700 tons.

SNOW (Finland)

  1. SNOW (Finland)

LUMI (Large Unified Modern Infrastructure) was built in 2022 by HPE and is located in Finland, making it the fastest supercomputer in Europe. LUMI has a total of 1,110,144 cores and operates at a speed of 151.9 PFLOPS. LUMI runs on the same processor as the Frontier and has a power efficiency rating of 51.63 gigaflops/watt, making it the second most efficient supercomputer in the world.

Summit (SAD)

  1. Summit (SAD)

In 2018, Summit was built by IBM to conduct scientific research. It is located at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the USA, i.e. at the same location as Frontier. Summit has a total of 2,414,592 cores and achieves 148.6 PFLOPS. The Summit runs on IBM POWER9 3.07GHz CPUs with 22 cores and Nvidia Tesla V100 GPUs and has a power efficiency rating of 14.72 gigaflops/watt, similar to Fugaku.

Sierra (SAD)

  1. Sierra (SAD)

Sierra was built in 2018 and is very similar to Sumit, as both supercomputers use the same 22-core IBM POWER9 CPU architecture and Nvidia Tesla V100 GPU. However, while Summit was created for scientific research, Sierra was created to run simulations to test and maintain the United States’ nuclear weapons. By running nuclear weapons simulations, the US National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) can verify the effectiveness of its nuclear weapons without physical testing, which helps save costs. Sierra has a total of 1,572,480 cores and achieves 94.64 PFLOPS and has an energy efficiency of 12.72 gigaflops/watt.

Sunway TaihuLight (China)

  1. Sunway TaihuLight (China)

Sixth on the list is our first Chinese supercomputer, the Sunway TaihuLight. It was built in 2016 for various purposes such as weather forecasting, pharmaceutical research, biological science research and much more. Sunway TaihuLight has a total of 10,649,600 CPU cores and achieves 93.01 PFLOPS. It runs on a Sunway SW26010 260-core 1.45GHz processor and has a power efficiency rating of just 6.05 gigaflops/watt, making it the least efficient supercomputer on this list.

Perlmutter (SAD)

  1. Perlmutter (SAD)

Built in 2021 by HPE, Perlmutter is the world’s seventh most powerful supercomputer named after Nobel Prize winner Saul Perlmutter. Just like the Sunway TaihuLight, it is built for a variety of purposes, including nuclear fusion simulations, climate projections, material and biological research, and computational cosmology.

It is currently housed at the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) and used by the United States Department of Energy. Perlmutter uses an AMD 7763 64-core 2.45GHz CPU and Nvidia A100 GPU and has a total of 761,856 cores and has a speed of 70.87 PFLOPS, and has a power efficiency rating of 27.37 gigaflops/watt.

Selene (SAD)

  1. Selene (SAD)

Selene was designed by Nvidia in 2020 and is named after the Greek goddess of the moon. Its most prominent purpose was realized in 2020 when the Illinois-based Argonne National Laboratory used it to study the coronavirus and a potential cure. Selene is also used to train Google’s BERT natural language processing model. Selene has a total of 555,520 cores and achieves 63.46 PFLOPS on benchmarks. It is built on the NVIDIA DGX SuperPOD reference architecture and runs on AMD 7742 64-core 2.25GHz processors. It has an energy efficiency rating of 24 gigaflops/watt.

Supercomputers are no longer the stuff of fiction. They are real, exist and are used for various complex activities

It’s really amazing to see how powerful supercomputers are. A job that would take humans several years to complete, and ordinary personal computers several weeks, supercomputers can do in seconds. It won’t be long until the Frontier is overtaken by another supercomputer, which is faster and more efficient.

Modern laptops, desktops, and game consoles can already be classified as supercomputers, but they are no match for the best that man has devised. Fortunately, as is the nature of technology, it will continue to shrink and eventually end up in our personal gadgets, helping us expand our personal knowledge and creating a vast new industry, ready to be further shaped.

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I am admin of techbuzz.asia blog & I provide tech-related news. As a part of my hobby, I make content related to technology and gadgets reviews too. I love to be a content creator apart from it, I am a full-time employee in an MNC company and manage blogs systematically. You can mail me at [email protected]

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