This new supercomputer, Roadrunner, will be installed at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico. The laboratory is owned by the US Department of Energy (DOE). Eventually the machine could be used for a programme that ensures the US nuclear weapons stockpile remains safe and reliable. By using supercomputers to simulate how nuclear materials age, it may be possible to eliminate underground nuclear testing.
The new machine will be able to achieve "petaflop speeds". One petaflop is the equivalent of 1,000 trillion calculations per second. Running at peak speed, it will be able to crunch through 1.6 thousand trillion calculations per second. By comparison, the current fastest supercomputer BlueGene/L is capable of mere "teraflop" (trillion calculations per second) speeds.
The computer will contain 16,000 standard processors working alongside 16,000 "cell" processors, designed for the Sony PlayStation 3 (PS3).
Each cell chip consists of eight processors controlled by a master unit that can assign tasks to each member of the processing team. Each cell is capable of 256 billion calculations per second.
The power of the cell chip means Roadrunner needs far fewer processors than its predecessors.
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