IBM uses gaming chip to build world's fastest supercomputer

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IBM uses gaming chip to build world's fastest supercomputer

Antony Savvas

IBM has announced that it is building the world’s fastest supercomputer – using a microprocessor designed for videogames and relying on the Linux operating system.

Deployed at the Los Alamos lab of the US Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration, the machine – codenamed Roadrunner – is designed to smash the performance barrier of 1,000 trillion calculations per second (one petaflop).

Roadrunner will harness IBM’s new Cell Broadband Engine chip – originally built for the upcoming Sony PlayStation 3.

The revolutionary supercomputer will be capable of a peak performance of over 1.6 petaflops (or 1.6 thousand trillion calculations per second).

The Cell Broadband Engine chips will work in conjunction with systems based on x86 processors from AMD.

Designed specifically to handle a broad spectrum of scientific and commercial applications, the supercomputer design includes sophisticated software to orchestrate over 16,000 AMD Opteron processor cores and over 16,000 Cell Broadband Engine processors.

The machine, based on the Linux operating system, will use IBM System x 3755 servers based on AMD Opteron chips and IBM BladeCenter H systems equipped with Cell chips.

Designed with space and power consumption issues in mind, the system will employ advanced cooling and power management technologies, and will occupy only 12,000 square feet of floor space, or approximately the size of three basketball courts.

Typical compute processes, file IO, and communication activity will be handled by AMD Opteron processors, while more complex and repetitive elements – ones that traditionally consume the majority of supercomputer resources – will be directed to the 16,000 Cell processors.

Designed originally for gaming platforms, where intense graphics and real-time responsiveness are key, IBM said the Cell processors were ideal to speed Roadrunner through intense mathematical problems.

IBM will start building the supercomputer later this year, with completion expected in 2008.

The Cell processor was jointly developed by IBM, Sony and Toshiba.


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