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Roadrunner Supercomputer  (Source: IBM)
Roadrunner supercomputer is first to break petaflop barrier

A new supercomputer in the U.S. has broken a barrier that many thought wouldn’t be broken for years to come. A new supercomputer-- dubbed Roadrunner-- has broken the petaflop barrier.

Roadrunner was designed by engineers and scientists at IBM and the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Ultimately, Roadrunner will be placed into a classified environment where it will be used to simulate what effects aging has on the stockpile of nuclear weapons the U.S. has in its arsenal. The problem it will work on is modeling how aging nuclear weapons behave the first fraction of a second during an explosion. Before beginning its nuclear weapons research, Roadrunner will be used to model the effects of global warming.

The Roadrunner supercomputer costs $133 million and is built using chips from both consumer electronics and more common server processors.

Roadrunner has 12,960 chips that are an improved version of the Cell chip used in the PS3. These Cell processors act as a turbocharger for certain portions of the calculations the Roadrunner processes. The computer also uses a smaller, unspecified number of AMD Opteron processors.

A computer researcher from the University of Tennessee, Jack Dongarra told the New York Times, “This [breaking the petaflop barrier] is equivalent to the four-minute mile of supercomputing.”

Horst Simon from the Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory said, “Roadrunner tells us about what will happen in the next decade. Technology is coming from the consumer electronics market and the innovation is happening first in terms of cell phones and embedded electronics.”

Technology first appearing in the consumer electronics market and then making its way into supercomputing is a stark contrast to a process that commonly works in the exact opposite manner.

In total, Roadrunner has 116,640 processing cores and the real challenge for programmers is figuring out how to keep all of those processing cores in use simultaneously to get the best performance. Roadrunner requires about 3 megawatts of power, or about enough electricity to run a large shopping center.

To put the processing power in perspective, Thomas P. D’Agostino of the National Nuclear Security Administration said that if all 6 billion people on Earth entered calculations on a calculator for 24 hours a day, seven days per week it would take 46 years to do what Roadrunner can do in one day.

How Roadrunner is cooled is unknown, IBM has recently moved to liquid cooling for its supercomputers, but Roadrunner appears to be air cooled.

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The funniest thing is...
By CaioKK on 6/9/2008 10:10:16 PM , Rating: 5
They spend $133 million on a military computer made to calculate effects of nuclear weapons, yet name it after a Looney Tunes character. Engineers are geeks no matter what they're doing, hehe.

RE: The funniest thing is...
By GDstew4 on 6/10/2008 1:31:36 AM , Rating: 4
Or how about...

Since it was developed in New Mexico it was named after the state bird? :)

RE: The funniest thing is...
By PWNettle on 6/10/2008 2:29:36 PM , Rating: 2
I'm somewhat impressed that it only cost 133m when it seems like anything the govt does these days costs billions.

Regardless, I think modeling the effects of global warming or figuring out wtf a nuclear bomb does when exposed to explosions seems like a monumental waste of tax dollars. Because in regards to global warming, it doesn't matter what they find out - humans aren't gonna stop driving, creating pollution, or otherwise destroying the environment when there's money or day to day life involved. And it doesn't take a super computer to know that blowing up nuclear warheads is an entirely bad thing. So this super computer can calculate the obvious faster. Woohoo.

RE: The funniest thing is...
By lompocus on 6/11/2008 12:17:36 PM , Rating: 1
Oh yes, we can forget about innovation and about controlling our environment and just wait and see what happens! That's a perfectly good idea! Let's spend that 133 mil on NASA! Wait, people like you think NASA is also a waste of money!

RE: The funniest thing is...
By DeSade on 6/11/2008 9:15:41 AM , Rating: 5
Actually, I heard it was $133.7 million....

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