ALL ABOUT SUPERCOMPUTERS
TYPES & SIZES of COMPUTERS
Directions: Read the information below and use the links provided to answer the questions on your types of computers handouts. Read the introduction and then you will begin the first handout on SUPERCOMPUTERS!
The computer sitting on the desk in your classroom is a microcomputer. It is a small, powerful piece of equipment. Even so, the power of the microcomputer is not enough for most large organizations. The computer industry consists of more than just microcomputers.
Any classification of computers is subject to judgment. Traditionally, computers have been classified by their size, processing speed, and cost. Over the next few days you will learn about four of the most commonly used classifications: supercomputers, mainframes, minicomputers, and microcomputers. Supercomputers are the largest and most powerful; microcomputers are the smallest. Because all computers are becoming more powerful and faster, any absolute measure would be foolish. Supercomputers are the most powerful relative to anything else currently available. Today’s microcomputers can do work that required a mainframe computer 20 years ago. The microcomputer of 2010 may be equal in power to the supercomputer of today.
(Use this information to answer questions 1-13 on your handout)
Supercomputers are the largest, fastest, and most expensive computers made. Supercomputers are used primarily for scientific applications that are mathematically intensive. The aerospace, automotive, chemical, electronics, and petroleum industries use supercomputers extensively. Supercomputers are also used in weather forecasting and seismic analysis. They are found in many public and private research centers, such as universities and government laboratories. It was a supercomputer that alerted scientists to the impending collision of a comet with Jupiter in 1994, giving them time to prepare to observe and record the event.
The first supercomputer was built in the 1960s for the Department of Defense. This computer was designed to be the world’s fastest and most powerful computer at that time. The commitment to create the fastest, most powerful computer in the world is still the driving force behind the development of the supercomputers. Manufacturers produce relatively few of any one model of supercomputer, and they spend millions of dollars on research and development of new machines.
Supercomputers derive much of their speed from the use of multiple processors. Multiprocessing enables the computers to perform tasks simultaneously-either assigning different tasks to each processing unit or dividing a complex task among several processing units. The first supercomputer had four central processing units; the massively parallel processors of today contain hundreds of processors.
The speed of modern supercomputers is measured in nanoseconds and megaflops per second. A nanosecond is one billionth of a second. A megaflop is one million floating-point arithmetic operations per second. Supercomputers can perform at more than 200 megaflops per second. This capability makes supercomputers suitable for processor-intensive applications, such as graphics. Supercomputers are rarely used for input-output intensive processing, such as accounting or record-keeping operations.
The leading companies developing Supercomputers include Cray Research Company, Thinking Machines Corporation, Fujitsu, and Hitachi. Cray Research Company, founded by Seymour Cray in 1972, is the undisputed leader in this segment of the computer industry. Cray Research recently delivered a 256-processor system to the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and delivered to China a system designed to forecast dangerous weather. Cray supercomputers are currently based on Alpha microprocessor chips, designed by Digital Equipment Corporation, that operate at 275 megahertz.
Thinking Machines has produced a supercomputer called The Connection Machine, which has over 64,000 processors. The Connection Machine is reasonable priced a $5 million. (Supercomputers range in price from $2 million to $85 million dollars.) Hitachi recently entered into an agreement with IBM to develop a massively parallel supercomputer based on 2,000 PowerPC microprocessors.