Not exactly a computer you can pick up at your local Circuit City, but we’ll make an exception for something that can break the petaflop barrier. IBM’s Roadrunner can fathom in excess of 1.026 quadrillion calculations per second, which makes it twice as fast as the company’s previous machine, Blue Gene/L, that topped out at a measly 478.2 teraflops. The silicon behind the massive figures is an interesting mixture of standard Opteron processors – almost 7,000 of them in fact – and almost 13,000 cell chips, initially designed for the PS3.
Designed by IBM, Sony, Toshiba and others, the cell CPUs consist of eight cores running at more than 4GHz; they’ve been modified for more specialist calculations and to cope with higher data bandwidth. It’s the cells that work through the real data under analysis, while the Opeterons churn away keeping the whole system running properly.
Roadrunner is yet to be classified, but once that is done it will be set to work monitoring the US nuclear stockpile from a lab in New Mexico. It won’t be a small lab either: fully assembled, the supercomputer takes up 288 refrigerator-sized cases and is inter-connected by 57 miles (92km) of fibre optic cable. Around three megawatts of power are needed to keep it running.
IBM are currently working on a replacement for Blue Gene/L, also set to break the petaflop barrier, called Blue Gene/P.