What Is A Supercomputer? Which One Is The Fastest?

what is a supercomputer
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Supercomputers are essential for modern-day technologies like the internet, but what exactly are they? A supercomputer is a high-performance computer (HPC) often used for complicated algorithmic tasks. These tasks can vary from testing mathematical equations to predicting weather and machine learning.

Supercomputers have multiple CPUs to achieve high computational speeds. What sets these systems apart is their use of vector arithmetic. This lets them do various complex tasks simultaneously with high speed and accuracy.

As for operating systems, most of these computers run Linux-based OS. All of the world’s fastest 500 supercomputers run on Linux.

What are Supercomputers used for?

Some years ago, supercomputers were mainly used for national security, nuclear weapons design, and cryptography. However, it has become cheaper to build a supercomputer with time, and many companies use it.

These computers are now used regularly in the aerospace, petroleum, and automotive industries. They are also used for scientific research, mainly involving subatomic particles and the origin and nature of the universe. Online gaming companies also use supercomputers to handle vast amounts of concurrent players.

Types of Supercomputer

There are two main types of supercomputers: general-purpose supercomputers and special-purpose supercomputers. General-purpose supercomputers are divided into vector processing machines, tightly connected cluster computers, and commodity computers. 

Special-purpose supercomputers are known for being good at achieving a particular task. Quantum Supercomputers use photons to store data and perform computations. Due to this, these computers can outperform even the fastest supercomputers thanks to this advantage.

Then there are AI supercomputers that use machine learning to carry out more calculations per second using the same hardware.

Famous Examples

  • Titan
  • IBM Sequoia
  • Fujitsu Fugaku
  • K Computer
  • Tianhe-I
  • IBM Roadrunner
  • Jaguar
  • Nebulae
  • Kraken
  • Pleiades
  • Jugene

Fastest Supercomputer

For a list of the world’s fastest supercomputers, take a look at Top500.org (an independent organization that publishes the rankings twice a year). Currently, the fastest supercomputer is Japan’s Fujitsu Fugaku.

The Fugaku has a performance of 442 petaflops, surpassing the combined performance of the following four supercomputers on the TOP500 list. It is based on ARM architecture, the same design principle used in smartphone processors.

Meta (formerly Facebook) has also claimed that they are building the world’s fastest AI supercomputer, which will be completed before 2022.

Top 5 Supercomputers

12020Fujitsu Fugaku442,010.0Kobe, Japan
22018IBM Summit148,600.0Oak Ridge, U.S.
32018IBM Sierra94,640.0Livermore, U.S.
42016Sunway TaihuLight93,014.6Wuxi, China
52013HPE Perlmutter70,870.0California, U.S.

The Future

With technological advancements, there might come a time when even small-scale businesses and developers can afford a supercomputer. It is already getting cheaper and cheaper to build these high-performance computers, so it might not be a long time from now.

If you like this simple explainer, check out our Short Bytes section. We take complex tech topics and break them into short, easy-to-understand articles.

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