Supercomputers Today: Seymour Cray Runs Into Heisenberg

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Scott Fulton writes of the problems facing supercomputer architects today as they design the systems of the future:

“TACC announced last August that it will be replacing its old Lonestar with a new Lonestar that promises even faster data rates using a 40 gigabit per second (Gbps) InfiniBand fabric from Mellanox. And the InfiniBand Trade Association is promising theoretical throughput of 300 Gbps over 12 simultaneous channels by the end of this year. Yet that huge data rate comes at a cost that the creators of the Internet itself believe may be prohibitive. In its March 2010 report, DARPA pointed out that there have historically been three easy ways to improve the performance of a COTS-based supercomputer: You could increase the clock speed of the CPU, you could decrease the supply voltage to enable tighter component integration, and you could increase the number of transistors on the CPU. Those three dials have effectively been turned just about as far as they can go; you can’t increase clock speed further without overheating, and you can’t decrease voltage without introducing error rates. Maybe you can still pack more transistors, but only if materials innovations continue to enable further miniaturization without creating power leaks.

This is a great feature story with quotes from noted thought leaders in the HPC community. Read the Full Story.


  1. I wonder, what does this mean for Moore’s law of semiconductor design? It has held up since 1965 and is apparently predicted to last a few more years. It will be really interesting to see if innovation manages to overcome this ‘theoretical limit’, which has been speculated upon for a while…

  2. Have you heard the latest – Zuckerberg’s Law, which states that internet users share double the amount of information every year? 😉

    It seems that personal computing devices have ‘tailed off’ in terms of performance – so much more of the actual computing is done in the cloud that many people don’t need a powerful computer any more. It’s been predicted that in a few years home computers might be little more than a screen and a keyboard…

  3. @Alex Moore’s Law is an interesting phenomenon, but in a sense it is not so much a law as an observation… there’s no real “law” – as in a law of physics – as its governing principle. It’s fascinating that it has held up and perhaps demonstrates that there may be some pattern to the pace of human innovation. It will be interesting to see what happens next.