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IBM's Roadrunner Breaks Supercomputer Record

The hardware is capable of executing more than 1 quadrillion (1,000 trillion) floating point operations per second, a computation rate otherwise known as 1 petaflop.

The U.S. Department of Energy and IBM on Monday announced that the new Roadrunner supercomputer is the first such machine capable of executing more than 1 quadrillion (1,000 trillion) floating point operations per second, a computation rate otherwise known as 1 petaflop.

The $100 million machine is about twice as fast as the current supercomputing record holder, IBM's Blue Gene system at Lawrence Livermore National Lab.

U.S. Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman said that Roadrunner will provide calculations for nuclear security and scientific research.

The machine 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.

IBM 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. It runs Red Hat Linux.

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 this month. IBM's Blue Gene holds first place on the February 2008 Green 500 list, with 357.23 million calculations per watt.

It would take 100,000 of today's fastest laptops -- which would reach 1.5 miles into the sky if you're the stacking sort -- to equal Roadrunner's computational power. Engineering difficulties, zoning issues, and insurance costs would probably preclude the creation of such a laptop tower, however.

According to IBM, supercomputing power has increased 1,000-fold in the past 10 years. 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 would be getting 200,000 miles to the gallon.

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