IBM's Roadrunner sets new supercomputer record

A hybrid supercomputer built by IBM for the UD Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration more than doubles the speed of Blue Gene, previously the world's fastest. And it does so with the aid of the processor used in the Sony PlayStation 3.

The hybrid tag refers to the way Roadrunner was designed to exploit the strengths of the Cell Broadband Engine as well as conventional x86 chips from AMD. This is said to be a first in supercomputer design.

Roadrunner features 12,960 Cell chips along with 6948 dual-core Opteron CPUs. Assembled from off-the-shelf IBM blade servers, the system is housed in 288 "refrigerator sized" racks.

The blades are configured in groups of three, comprising a pair of Cell blades with one Opteron blade. The Cell chips handle the mathematical and other CPU-intensive operations, while the Opterons take care of I/O and other less arduous tasks. With 400 gigaflops (400 billion floating-point operations per second) per tri-blade, the whole system is rated at over one petaflop (one million billion calculations per second).

IBM puts the processing capability into perspective by comparing it with 100,000 of today's fastest laptops, or around 1000 of what was the world's fastest supercomputer in 1998.

Not only is Roadrunner the world's fastest supercomputer, it is also one of the most energy efficient. Performing 376 million calculations per watt, IBM officials expect it to be one of the leaders in the next Green 500 list.