Roadrunner Goes Petaflop

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The BBC has reported that scientists at IBM have created a new supercomputer, nicknamed Roadrunner, that’s capable of petaflop speeds – that one thousand trillion calculation per second. What’s even more remarkable is that it was built using components made for Sony’s PS3 gaming console.

The current fastest computer in the world is also made by IBM, Blue/Gene L, which runs at 478.2 teraflops (trillions of calculations per second). However, it uses 212,992 processors; by contrasts, Roadrunner employs just 20,000 chips. It can manage that because it combines regular supercomputer processors with the “cell” chips designed for the PS3. With eight cores, it runs at a droolworthy 4GHz, and was designed by IBM, Sony and Toshiba, and is the first to break the petaflop barrier.

"We are getting closer to simulating the real world," Bijan Davari, vice president of next generation computing systems at IBM, told the BBC. "The latency of the calculations is so small that for all practical purposes it is real time."

The computer will be used in New Mexico to monitor the US nuclear weapon stockpile, as well as for research into climate change, genomic and astronomy.