The world’s fastest supercomputer

IBM, Los Alamos smash petaflop barrier.

  • Roadrunner is a breakthrough in hybrid computing, combining AMD microprocessors found in standard laptops and servers with the IBM Cell Broadband Engine chips that power Sony's PS3 gaming console.

  • The world's first petaflop machine is being delivered to Los Alamos National Laboratory, and will let scientists test the safety and reliability of America's nuclear bombs without the need for live tests.

  • In addition to nuclear safety testing, Roadrunner calculations could determine the influence of radiation flow on light signals from the exploding stars known as supernovae.

  • A petaflop is a measure of speed equivalent to one thousand trillion calculations per second. IBM and Los Alamos teamed up to build Roadrunner, the world's fastest supercomputer with 1.5 petaflops, three times faster than the previous champ. Pictured is lead engineer Don Grice of IBM inspecting Roadrunner at Big Blue's US plant. Roadrunner will be trucked to Los Alamos in New Mexico in August.

  • Costing $100 million, Roadrunner combines 6,948 dual-core AMD Opteron chips and 12,960 Cell engines, all housed in IBM blade servers. Roadrunner weights 500,000 pounds, and has 10,000 Infiniband and Gigabit Ethernet connections requiring 57 miles of fiber optic cable (pictured).

  • This chip "contains a Power PC compute core that oversees all the system operations and a set of eight simple processing elements, known as SPEs, that are optimized for both image processing and arithmetic operations at the heart of numerical simulations," Los Alamos says. "Each is specialized to work on multiple data items at a time (a process called vector processing, or SIMD), which is very efficient for repetitive mathematical operations on well-defined groups of data."

  • Roadrunner is more efficient than most supercomputers, delivering 376 million calculations per watt, according to IBM. That should be enough to place Roadrunner among the most energy-efficient systems on the Green 500 list coming out later this month, IBM says. Pictured are the cooling towers at Los Alamos, which dissipate the heat generated by power-hungry supercomputers.

  • Roadrunner is capable of many other complex experiments, from testing the effects of drugs on the human body to predicting fluctuations in the stock market. What would you use Roadrunner for?

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