U.S. gov. 20-petaflop supercomputer guns for world's fastest

The U.S. government's newest supercomputer is gunning for the title of the world's fastest, which is expected to hit the 20-petaflop mark when it's 'booted up' later today.
Written by Zack Whittaker, Contributor

The U.S. Department for Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory is preparing to flip the switch on what could well be the world's most powerful supercomputer. 

Image credit: Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Set to go live later today -- due to its land-locked location in Tennessee, the scheduled switch-on will likely be largely unaffected by Hurricane Sandy, currently battering ten bells out of the eastern seaboard -- the high-performance supercomputer is set to dwarf the speeds by the existing supercomputer, Sequoia, currently the world's fastest.

Sequoia currently holds the world record as the world's fastest supercomputer, according to the Top500 supercomputer list, reaching a massive 16.32 petaflops. However, the upgraded model is expected to reach a massive 20 petaflops -- or 20 quadrillion calculations per second.

Titan, developed by supercomputer specialist Cray Inc., is a significant upgrade from Jaguar, which uses the same number of nodes and cabinets as its predecessor but delivers around 10 percent the performance.

Titan replaces Jaguar's 224,256 processors with just shy of 300,000 faster AMD-made 16-core processors, along with 18,688 Nvida-built graphical processing units (GPUs), giving the supercomputer a third more processors than the older model. Titan will also have more than 700 terabytes of memory to keep it ticking over. 

With more than 200 server cabinets, the 16-core CPUs will be not only faster but also more efficient, leading to faster results for complex mathematical equations. 

The power consumption is almost beyond belief. Jaguar required 7 megawatts of energy -- the equivalent of about 7,000 average homes -- costing the U.S. government lab $7 million in power costs alone last year. However, Titan's processors are around five times more energy efficient than Jaguar's. The 9 megawatts of power will add $10 million to the cost of running the supercomputer, but the costs would be considerably higher had the Oak Ridge Laboratory simply expanded the supercomputer. 

It's hoped that by 2016, the U.S. Department of Energy will upgrade Titan again, which could by then reach 200 petaflops -- or 10 times the speeds of Titan. 

The next release of the Top500 list is expected to be released in the coming weeks.

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