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Pushing the Petaflop Envelope

Will Roadrunner get caught?

Todays announcement of the Top 500 supercomputers in the world is notable, not just for the current popularity of quad-core chips and Gigabit Ethernet, but for the sheer speed of the world's fastest system.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s new Roadrunner machine has basically blown the doors off the Top 500 ratings, touting speeds of more than a Petaflop (over 1,000 teraflops, or one thousand trillion calculations per second).

Contrast this with the previous No. 1 system, the IBM BlueGene/L at Lawrence Livermore National Lab, which is capable of 478.2 Tflops.

BlueGene/L had topped the list since November 2004, but Los Alamos’s Roadrunner now offers more than double the performance of its predecessor.

“The Roadrunner system is a bit of an anomaly,” says Jim Kasdorf, director of special projects at the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center, explaining that Roadrunner’s phenomenal speed comes at a price. “It’s a very difficult system to program - you have to be a hero to make all these pieces work together.”

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