News / Science & Technology

How Relevant Are Computing Behemoths?

How Relevant Are Computing Behemoths?i
X
July 02, 2013 9:53 PM
A new supercomputer developed by China's National University of Defense Technology has been ranked the fastest in the world by the Top500's semi-annual list of the world's most powerful computers. The supercomputer Titan at the U.S. Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory fell to number two. But what are supercomputers? And how important is the race to make them faster and more powerful? VOA's George Putic has more.
TEXT SIZE - +
George Putic
A new supercomputer developed by China's National University of Defense Technology has been ranked the fastest in the world by the Top500's semi-annual list of the world's most powerful computers. The supercomputer Titan at the U.S. Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory fell to number two. But what are supercomputers? And how important is the race to make them faster and more powerful?

Your basic personal computer has one microchip at its core. The Central Processing Unit, or CPU, executes a set of commands contained in a predesigned program.

The first supercomputers had a few more CPUs, but computer science professor Andrew Grimshaw, at the University of Virginia says that changed as microprocessors became cheaper and faster.

"Today, supercomputers are all what we call parallel machines. Instead of one CPU - central processing unit - they have thousands and thousands," he said. "And in the case of the Chinese machine, depending on how you count, millions of the central processing units."

Parallel machines consist of many individual computers called nodes, situated in one block. They use a lot of power, generate a lot of heat, and require huge cooling systems. Also, supercomputers use programs different from the ones used by ordinary computers.

With enough resources, Grimshaw says, anyone can build a supercomputer to address problems that require millions of mathematical calculations.  

But that's not always necessary. A virtual supercomputer can be created by networking individual computers within a university campus or company. These machines then process data during down time, when no one else is using them.

"Those are very easy to run on virtual supercomputers because each problem is independent of all the others and I can scatter these jobs out all around the place," Grimshaw said. "We run these all the time at UVA."

Grimshaw says that until a decade ago, engineers were focused on making computers faster. Since then, he says, they have worked to create more powerful parallel machines.

"It’s transforming science and engineering, and it’s going to continue to transform it in ways I think most people don’t fully grasp - how well we can model and simulate the world now," he said.

Grimshaw says computing ability makes the future of research look, "so bright I gotta wear shades."

You May Like

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid