Southern Man

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Parallel Computing Workshop, Day 0

For the next eight days Southern Man will be commuting to a nearby state university for a workshop on parallel computing. Tonight was the introductory session and a tour of the machine we'll be using (performance about 30 TFlops) that when new was ranked in the top hundred on the Top 500 list and as of this writing is still hanging near the bottom, and consumes about 2% of the total electrical power used in this college town of 50,000 people. That's right - Southern Man gets to play with a genuine supercomputer all week. This will be a lot of fun. For you geeks, the machine is a cluster of Dell PowerEdge 1950s with eight-core processors, in a double row of racks that sit under a bunch of industrial-strength air conditioners. A surprising fact - top-of-the-line general-purpose GPUs (graphic processing units) are the processors of choice for the newest supercomputers and the latest of such (we're talking cards that retail for about two thousand dollars) would have topped the supercomputer list less than twenty years ago.

That means that in a couple of decades you'll be surfing the 'net (or whatever the 'net evolves into) on machines that will have the performance of today's supercomputers. Or, if you like, the computer you're at now would probably leave the legendary Cray XM-P in the dust. The Cray costs a cool fifteen million dollars in 1985; your modern computer is cheaper by four orders of magnitude. Is that cool or what?


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