New Top 500 List

November 30, 2009

Since 1993, the TOP500 project has been publishing a semi-annual list of the 500 most powerful computer systems in the world, as a barometer of trends and accomplishments in high-performance computing.  The latest list has just been released this month, and there is a new speed champion, the Jaguar Cray XT5 system at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.  Unlike many previous Oak Ridge computers, which have been used to model nuclear explosions for military purposes, the Jaguar system is being used for civilian purposes, principally climate modeling.

The speed ratings for the systems on the list are based on 64-bit floating-point performance on the LINPACK benchmark, which solves a dense system of linear equations.  Of course, a single rating cannot possibly capture all aspects of a system’s performance; but since systems in this class are usually employed to solve extremely computation-intensive problems, the LINPACK measure is a reasonable first approximation.  The following table shows the top five systems, with their locations, speeds (in teraflops, 1 × 1012 floating-point operations per second), and basic processor technology:

Rank System Name Country Speed Technology
1 Jaguar USA 1800 Cray KT5
2 Roadrunner USA 1042 AMD / Cell
3 Kraken USA 831 AMD Opteron
4 Jugene Germany 825 IBM Blue Gene
5 Tianhe-1 China 563 Intel / AMD GPU

The TOP500 site allows you to generate charts and graphs of the systems categorized in various ways: by vendor, by country, and by processor architecture, for example. One of the more interesting categorizations, perhaps, is by operating system:

OS Family No. of Systems
Linux 446
MS Windows 5
Mixed / Misc. 23

Clearly, Microsoft’s near monopoly on the desktop does not cut much ice in this market.

As far as I know, there’s no prize, other than bragging rights, awarded to the winner.  But it is interesting to see the progress being made in really high-performance computing.

The Royal Society: 350 Years

November 30, 2009

This week marks the beginning of the 350th year for The Royal Society of the UK, founded November 28, 1660, and the oldest scientific society in the world.  In order to mark the event, the Society plans a number of special activities and events.  One that you can look at now is the Trailblazing web site,  which has a timeline of selected historical publications from Philosophical Transactions, the Society’s journal.  Some of the articles include:

  • Sir Isaac Newton’s 1672 paper on the theory of light and colours
  • Observations of the solar eclipse of 1715
  • Ben Franklin’s 1752 report of flying a kite in an electrical storm
  • James Clerk Maxwell’s 1865 paper on the electromagnetic field
  • Observations of the 1920 solar eclipse, testing General Relativity
  • A 1954 paper by Crick and Watson on the structure of DNA

There are also markers on the time line for historical events, such as the Great Fire in London, and the American Civil War.  For each of the papers listed, there is a brief summary, and a facsimile of the paper itself can be downloaded as a PDF.

It’s fascinating to be able to see some of this work as it was originally presented.

Update Tuesday, December 1, 23:18

Wired Science now has a short article reviewing their “greatest hits” from the scientific papers at the Trailblazing site.

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