June 6, 2012

Computer Hardware and Supercomputers

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With advances in modern computer hardware, it is interesting to take a look at what is perhaps the ultimate achievement in computer building, the supercomputer. The origin of the supercomputer took place in the 1960s and one of the pioneers in their design and construction was a man named Seymour Cray. While he started out at Control Data Corporation, a leader in the field at the time, he eventually left the firm to form his own company, Cray Research.

Today most supercomputers are individually designed with a specific goal or problem in mind. Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Cray are some of the current leaders in the field. It has been stated that the Jaguar, made by Cray is possibly the fastest supercomputer in the world. This information is reliable only as of May 2010, a testament to how quickly advances are being made in all areas of computers.

The evolution of supercomputers relates to the types of processors used then and now. Initially scalar processors were utilized in their design. These were replaced by the use of vector processors. The next generation saw the introduction of parallel processing systems. Many of the newest supercomputers are actually computer clusters which use commodity processors.

One of the chief tasks supercomputers are used for are calculation-intense problem solving. Fields they are utilized in include weather forecasting, climate research, quantum physics, molecular modeling, for instance analyzing the properties and structures of chemical compounds or crystals. Another field in which the computers are required is the field of physical simulations, for example testing an airplane in a wind tunnel, or in simulating the effects of detonating an atomic bomb. It is an essential tool for in-depth analysis and research of nuclear fusion.

Supercomputers are required in grand challenge problems, those problems whose solution necessitates almost infinite computational resources.

What is probably safe to say, given how quickly progress is made in the computer hardware field, is that the supercomputer of today will become the desktop of tomorrow.

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