Super Computer - Online Article

Supercomputer's are computer designed to perform calculations as fast as current technology allows and used to solve extremely complex problems. Supercomputers are used to design automobiles, aircraft, and spacecraft; to forecast theweather and global climate; to design new drugs and chemical compounds; and to make calculations that help scientists understand the properties of particles that make up atoms as well as the behavior and evolution of stars and galaxies. Supercomputers are also used extensively by the military for weapons and defense systems research, and for encrypting and decoding sensitive intelligence information.

Supercomputers are different than other types of computers in that they are designed to work on a single problem at a time, devoting all their resources to the solution of the problem. Other powerful computers such as mainframes and workstations are specifically designed so that they can work on numerous problems, and support numerous users, simultaneously. Because of their highcost - usually in the hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars - supercomputers are shared resources. Supercomputers are so expensive that usually only large companies, universities, and government agencies and laboratories can afford them.

How It Works

The two major components of a supercomputer are the same as any other computer - a Central Processing Unit (CPU) where instructions are carried out, and the memory in which data and instructions are stored. The CPU in a supercomputer is similar in function to a standard personal computer (PC) CPU, but it usually has a different type of transistor technology that minimizes transistor switching time. Switching time is the length of time that it takes for a transistor inthe CPU to open or close, which corresponds to a piece of data moving or changing value in the computer. This time is extremely important in determining the absolute speed at which a CPU can operate. By usingvery high performance circuits, architectures, and in some cases, evenspecial materials, supercomputer designers are able to make CPUs that are 10 to 20 times faster than state - of - the - art processors for other types of commercial computers.

Supercomputer memory also has the same function as memory in other computers, but it is optimized so that retrieval of data and instructions from memory takes the least amount of time possible. Also important to supercomputer performance is that the connections between the memory and the CPU be as short as possible to minimize the time that information takes to travel between the memory and the CPU.

Operating Systems

Supercomputer operating systems, today most often variants of Linux, are at least as complex as those for smaller machines. Historically, their user interfaces tended to be less developed, as the OS developers had limited programming resources to spend on non - essential parts of the OS (i.e., parts not directly contributing to the optimal utilization of the machine's hardware). These computers, often priced at millions of dollars, are sold to a very small market and the R&D budget for the OS was often limited. The advent of Unix and Linux allows reuse of conventional desktop software and user interfaces.

Interestingly this has been a continuing trend throughout the supercomputer industry, with former technology leaders such as Silicon Graphics taking a back seat to such companies as AMD and NVIDIA, who have been able to produce cheap, feature - rich, high - performance, and innovative products due to the vast number of consumers driving their R&D.

Until the early - to - mid - 1980s, supercomputers usually sacrificed instruction set compatibility and code portability for performance (processing and memory access speed). For the most part, supercomputers to this time (unlike high-end mainframes) had vastly different operating systems. The Cray-1 alone had at least six different proprietary OSs largely unknown to the general computing community. Similarly different and incompatible vectorizing and parallelizing compilers for Fortran existed. This trend would have continued with the ETA-10 were it not for the initial instruction set compatibility between the Cray-1 and the Cray X-MP, and the adoption of UNIX operating system variants (such as Cray's Unicos) and today's Linux.

In the future, the highest performance systems are likely to use a variant of Linux but with incompatible system-unique features (especially for the highest-end systems at secure facilities).

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Comments

Rajesh Kumar Gupta on 2009-03-13 06:49:32 wrote,

@Praveen Chaturvedi,
Good introduction. But it should be more informative ...... plzz provide more information about Super Computers.