Cell Processor Drives Record-Breaking Supercomputer
It seems like every time you turn around, there's a new "record-breaking supercomputer." Well, IBM has made another one; this sucker is twice as fast as the previous record holder and the PlayStation 3 Cell processor sits firmly at its core.
According to GameSpot and the BBC, Roadrunner runs at ridiculous petaflop - one thousand trillion calculations per second - speeds, which easily tops what was the most powerful computer in the world, the BlueGene/L. That one runs at 478.2 teraflops (trillions of calcs/second, not thousands of trillions calcs/second), and uses 212,992 processors. But believe it or not, Roadrunner needs only 20,000 chips as the special design will utilize "both conventional Opteron processors made by AMD and the PlayStation 3's Cell processor. " This project took "several years" of work by engineers from Sony, IBM and Toshiba, and the result is a machine that uses 13,000 of the PS3's Cell processors, with each one of the 8-core chips performing at speeds of 4GHz. Roadrunner's first practical task? To show up at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and "monitor the country's nuclear stockpile." Sounds important.
Remember during the dawn of the computing age when a computer would take up an entire room and barely be able to play tic-tac-toe? Yeah, things have changed. Roadrunner will need a lot of space, of course, but it's probably a gajillion times more powerful; it'll be housed in 288 refrigerator-sized cases and linked together with 57 miles of fibre-optic cable. Oh, and while we all know the PS3 consumes a giant amount of power, that pales in comparison to the three megawatts of power Roadrunner is going to need. And here's the final set of statistics that will make your head swim, as offered by the administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, Thomas P. D'Agostino:
If everybody on earth (that's about 6 billion people) used a regular ol' calculator 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, it would take them 46 years to perform the calculations Roadrunner could manage in one day. ...now we know why the Coyote was never able to catch his quarry.
6/9/2008 Ben Dutka