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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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RE: It doesn't matter how fast the computer is
By Major HooHaa on 6/11/2008 6:12:23 AM , Rating: 1
Have you seen the size of the holes in the ozone layer?! That was caused by man-made CFCs. This proves that man can have a big effect on the Earths environment.

When it comes to fossil fuels, we have dug up millions of tons of carbon and then released it back into the atmosphere through burning. At the same time we have reduced the environments ability to soak up carbon through de-forestation. I read that tree bark is made up of roughly 70% carbon and a mature Oak holds around 1.3 tonnes of carbon*.

The view I take is that the Human race has altered practically every habitat on the planet and changed the composition of the atmosphere. Since all those habits are locked together in a delicate balance, where changes to one can affect another, then we must have had some effect on the planet.

The population of humans on the planet is vastly, artificially inflated by our technological advances. So we are now the dominant species on the planet and surely that gives us a duty of care to look after that planet. Do we really have the moral right to send other species to extinction?

Having said that, the planet Earth will certainly out live the human race.

I came across a quote saying "Did you know?- We now know that the abundance of life on Earth masks an uncomfortable geological fact. To a rough approximation, of all the species that ever lived, less than 1% are alive today!"

As for the super computer being used for climate modelling, good on you guys!

*Thanks John-of-Wem for those figures.


By Aloonatic on 6/11/2008 7:01:24 AM , Rating: 2
Just because 1 thing happened because of 1 cause it does not mean that everything happens because of it too.

The Ozone debate was well supported, proven and thus accepted by everyone and action has taken place, and things are on the mend, slowly but surely.

The main advantage that the "Ozone Depletion" problem had over "Man Made Climate Change" (MMCC) was that the solution was relatively inexpensive and did not impede on people's day to day lives too much.

Yes, replacing your refrigerator was a pain in the arse all of a sudden, and aerosols were a bit rubbish for a few years but the former was a 1 off problem and the latter was soon fixed by clever people in white coats.

MMCC on the other hand is still not proven (those lovely colour coded pictures of the polar regions showing the ozone hole where very pretty and convincing) all that well and we are so dependent on the cause of it (cheap energy) that it just plane hurts too much to change our lifestyles.

Another point I feel is worthy of mention is that the data that we have to support the MMCC argument is pretty poor and always will be until someone invents a time machine.

There is just not enough data out there, unlike the situation when debating the ozone hole. There were measured levels of Ozone and it was relatively easy to show the sudden changes and decline (along with the obvious cause) and there was very little room to argue that it was due to naturally occurring reasons and these changes are all part of a greater system.

e.g. When people talk about icecaps melting and shrinking, showing videos of them falling away they can easily be skewed to support an argument, often neglecting to show them growing again later , or even that there have been recorded growths and contractions in the ice caps for a fairly long time but they are inconvenient to the MMCC argument and thus ignored.

Suddenly we are able to measure a lot of things on a global scale (for a rediculously small amount of time in the grand scheme of how long the environment and global climate has been changing and evolving) and we have seen a slight trend occurring and panic has set in, politicians have seen a chance take advantage of public sentiment and fear and celebrities have found something to fill their day and assuage their guilt for being massively wealthy for doing very little whilst most of the world lives in absolute squalor.

What ever gets you thought the day i guess.

I just haven't been convinced, see my other post for when I will be.


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