A computer or array of computers that act as one collective machine capable of processing enormous amounts of data. Supercomputers are used for very complex jobs such as nuclear research or forecasting weather patterns.
The size of a supercomputer can differ widely, depending on how many computers make up the supercomputer. A supercomputer could be made up of 10, 100, 1000, or more computers, all working together. As of 2016, the largest supercomputer is the Sunway TaihuLight in China. It consists of 40,960 RISC processors, each with 256 cores, totaling 10,649,600 cores. The Sunway TaihuLight is capable of 93 petaflops of processing power and uses a custom operating system called Sunway RaiseOS.
The picture below shows a supercomputer at the William R. Wiley Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory; the Linux-based system is composed of nearly 2,000 processors. Courtesy: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
The first official supercomputer was the CDC 6600, which was released in 1964. However, the idea of supercomputers began in the 1920s, when IBM tabulators were used at Columbia University.
What tasks do supercomputers perform?
Supercomputers are designed for computationally intensive tasks that require a lot of processing power and are often found in schools, research centers, and governments. By having a lot of processing power, complex tasks that would take a regular computer years to complete can be done in a fraction of the time. Below are examples of the types of tasks given to a supercomputer.
- Aerodynamic research
- Climate research
- Cryptanalysis (code-breaking)
- Gas and oil exploration
- Molecular modeling
- Nuclear fusion and weapon research
- Quantum mechanics
- Rendering 3D graphics
- Weather forecasting
What operating system do supercomputers use?
All of the top supercomputers today use a Linux-based operating system.
Could a supercomputer be a gaming computer?
No. Supercomputers are designed to handle complex problems that are broken up and shared among different processors. Although the latest computer games can be complex, they rely more on graphics processing on a single computer running an operating system like Microsoft Windows. So, for computer gaming, a gaming computer would outperform a supercomputer.