U.S. supercomputer tops list of world's fastest machines

The U.S. has the world's fastest supercomputer for the first time since 2009, according to a biannual list of Top 500 supercomputers.

The Sequoia is an IBM machine that is part of a generation of IBM supercomputers known as BlueGene/Q. It is based at the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.

The high-performance machine functions at processing speeds of 16.32 petaflops per second (Pflop/s), or about 1.5 million times faster than the average laptop.

One petaflop is equal to one quadrillion, or 1015, floating operations ( i.e. mathematical computations).

The supercomputer is actually a highly interconnected cluster of 1,572,864 processors, or cores, mounted on 98,304 "compute nodes," or boards, that are arranged on a series of 96 standing racks acorss 318 square metres of floor space.

The biannual list of the world's most powerful machines was revealed Monday at the International Supercomputing Conference in Hamburg.

The list is compiled each June and November by a group of computer experts, manufacturers and computational scientists and uses what's known as the Linpack Benchmark to measure how fast computers execute a particular program.

No. 1 supercomputer used to test nuclear weapons Supercomputers are used in a variety of fields, including Earth sciences, geophysics, astronomy, medicine and nuclear science.

The newly assembled Sequoia will be used to conduct simulations intended to extend the life of America's aging nuclear weapons arsenal, in lieu of underground nuclear testing.

The supercomputer "will provide a more complete understanding of weapons' performance, notably hydrodynamics and properties of materials at extreme pressures and temperatures," said Thomas D'Agostino of the National Nuclear Security Administration in a news release.

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