Roadrunner was always expected to be fast out of the blocks. And after a test run one night in the city of Poughkeepsie, New York, its creators are far from disappointed.
Built from microchips originally destined for games consoles, Roadrunner is the world's latest supercomputer. Yesterday it was officially crowned the fastest computer around, having performed a record million billion calculations per second.
As an indication of how fast this is, manufacturers explained that if 6 billion people were to do one sum a second on calculator, it would take 46 years to do what RoadRunner could do in a day. The world's first supercomputer, the Cray 1 built in the mid-1970s, would take 1,500 years to finish a calculation that Roadrunner would perform in two hours.For six months, the computer will direct its formidable processing power at scientific problems. It will analyse how HIV vaccines should best be administered, and map the region of the human brain that governs vision.
In another series of tests, it will churn out data on whether firing laser beams into plasmas will trigger nuclear fusion, which advocates believe could one day bring us almost limitless cheap energy. Other projects will focus on testing and improving the accuracy of climate change models.
Alan Dix, professor of computing at Lancaster University, said that by rough calculations, Roadrunner was possibly only five to 50 times less powerful than the human brain. "Wait another three to five years and it will be there," he said.
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