US lab aims for fastest supercomputer with Titan

ORNL's Titan supercomputer will be complete by autumn, and put the US back in contention for the world's fastest computer

A government research lab in Tennessee will deploy a new supercomputer later this year that could put the U.S. back in contention for the top spot on the list of the world's fastest supercomputers.

The Titan supercomputer at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory is on track for completion by autumn, and will deliver between 10 petaflops (10,000 trillion operations per second) and 20 petaflops of peak performance, the ORNL said Wednesday. The initial phase of its development has just been completed, the lab said.

Titan, which is a Cray XK6 system, will be the result of hardware upgrades to ORNL's existing Jaguar supercomputer, which delivers 3.3 petaflops peak performance.

The world's fastest supercomputer today, the K Computer in Japan, delivers a peak performance of 10.51 petaflops, according to the most recent Top500 list of the world's fastest supercomputers. The lists are issued each June and November, and the last U.S. supercomputer to hold the top spot was ORNL's Jaguar in November 2009.

Lately, the U.S. has been playing catch-up in the supercomputing race to China and Japan, which have had the fastest systems since early 2010. Russia is building a 10-petaflop supercomputer that will be deployed by the end of 2013, and another supercomputer in the U.S., the 10-petaflop Stampede system, will be operational at the University of Texas in early 2013.

The next big milestone for supercomputers is to reach exaflop performance, which would be about 100 times as fast as today's fastest supercomputers, by 2018.

Titan will combine Advanced Micro Devices' latest 16-core Opteron 6200 CPUs with Nvidia's Tesla graphics processors. The 16-core CPUs replace two existing six-core Opteron chips to provide more general-purpose computing power, while the Nvidia processors will boost specific scientific and math calculations. The system's interconnect and memory are also being upgraded.

Titan will have 299,008 cores and 600 terabytes of memory when completed. Titan was originally announced in October 2011.

Supercomputers allow chip makers to show off the performance of their microprocessors. While AMD may have an edge after Titan is up and running, the Stampede supercomputer will use Intel's upcoming Xeon E5 processors and a co-processor named Knights Corner to accelerate specialized applications.

ORNL is managed by University of Tennessee at Battelle for the U.S. Department of Energy.

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