No Surprise: IBM's Roadrunner Takes Top Supercomputer Honors

The Roadrunner system, which used a combination of Cell and AMD Opteron processors, has broken the petaflop barrier.

The era of the petaflop supercomputer is now officially here.

IBM's $100 million Roadrunner supercomputer, which is being installed at the U.S. Department of Energy's Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, is now the world's fastest supercomputer, according to the newly published Top 500 list, with a maximum performance of 1.026 petaflops, or more than one quadrillion calculations per second.

The new Top 500 list was released at the International Supercomputer Conference in Germany June 18 with IBM taking top honors and placing five machines within the top 10.

This compilation, which remains a useful guide to track the growing number and capabilities of supercomputers used around the world, is published twice a year by University of Mannheim, Germany, the University of Tennessee and the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Centers Lawrence-Berkeley National Laboratory, and the list remains a helpful guide to trace the limits of computing.

Earlier this month, IBM and the DOE announced that Roadrunner had broken the petaflop barrier, which took some of the drama away from the release of the list on Wednesday.

Still, the supercomputer is notable not only for its performance ability, but also for IBM's design, which took the company's Cell processor, originally designed for the Sony PlayStation, and repurposed those chips to crunch numbers within highly specialized scientific calculations. Roadrunner also uses Advanced Micro Devices' Opteron processors.

The result is that IBM will most likely hold onto the top spot for a number of years.

The Roadrunner system displaced IBM's other supercomputer, the Blue Gene/L system at the DOE's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which had held the top spot since November 2004. This system now ranks second with a maximum Linpack benchmark performance of 478.2 teraflops or 478.2 trillion calculations per second. (The Linpack benchmark is the standard used to measure the performance of these supercomputers.)

The latest version of the Top 500 also shows that IBM and a host of other HPC (high-performance computing) vendors have all ramped up their efforts to push the limits of computing. The November list showed seven supercomputers breaking 100 teraflops of performance, while the new June compilation shows that the top 12 machines all broke the 100-teraflop mark.

IBM remains the dominant vendor with 210 supercomputers within the Top 500 list. Hewlett-Packard is second with 183 systems listed. Dell and SGI each have more than 20 supercomputers on the list.

Of the top 10 supercomputers, the first five are all installed within the United States. IBM built five of the top 10, while SGI built two and HP, Sun Microsystems and Cray each built one.

While AMD processors were used within Roadrunner and several other systems, Intel remains the dominant chip within the Top 500, with 75 percent of the supercomputers having an Intel processor. AMD processors are used with 11 percent of the systems and IBM's Power processors are used within 13 percent of the supercomputers.