U.S. reclaims crown of world's fastest supercomputer with 'Sequoia'

9:04 AM, Jun 20, 2012   |    comments
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(CBS News) -- The race to build the fastest computer in the world never ends. Technology keeps improving, microchips keep getting smaller, and processing power continues its exponential growth.

But for now, the United States can claim the title of owning the world's fastest computer. The Department of Energy's "Sequoia" supercomputer in a federal lab in California was named on Monday as the fastest processor in the world, giving the U.S. a title it hasn't held since 2009.

The "Sequoia" - built using an IBM system - is planned to be a 20-petaflop computer. It currently stands at sixteen petaflops, enough to give it the crown of "world's fastest." Sixteen petaflops is enough power to perform sixteen thousand trillion calculations per second. The Department of Energy's website breaks it down further: "Sequoia is expected to be one of the most powerful supercomputers in the world, equivalent to the 6.7 billion people on earth using hand calculators and working together on a calculation 24 hours per day, 365 days a year, for 320 years...to do what Sequoia will do in one hour."

The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California is the home to Sequoia. The previous computer to be named "world's fastest" was a Japanese computer called the "K computer." Interestingly, not only is Sequoia more powerful than its Japanese rival, it is far more energy efficient as well. The Department of Energy's new computer consumes 7,890 kilowatts per hour, compared to 12,659 for the K computer.

The Sequoia itself doesn't look anything like a PC you might have at home. 98,304 compute nodes and 1.6 million cores are stacked on 96 racks and cover 4,500 square feet. The supercomputer is designed to deal with aging nuclear weapons. The machine is tasked with running complex simulations aimed at extending the lifespan of America's nuclear arsenal.

The Sequoia was named the world's fastest by Top 500 Supercomputer Sites, who do rankings of the fastest computers on Earth every six months.

© 2012 CBS Interactive Inc.. All Rights Reserved.

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