Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to make 200,000 trillion calculations in a single second!
Meet Summit, the world’s most powerful supercomputer.
After five years of ceding dominance to China, the United States is (unofficially) back on top, thanks to this insanely fast machine.
This is how the machine’s developers at Tennessee’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory put it: Summit can perform 200 quadrillion calculations per second.
In other words, if a human could do one calculation per second, it would still take him or her 6.3 billion years to match that pace.
If every person on Earth did one calculation per second (and they can’t), it would take the world population 305 days to do what Summit can do in one second.
“The researchers were able to solve a problem on Summit in one hour that would take 30 years on a desktop computer,” Morgan McCorkle, the media manager for Oak Ridge, told CNN.
All the superlatives
Of course, this kind of firepower doesn’t come cheap.
Summit costs $200 million.
It takes up 5,600 square feet of floor space, almost the area covered by two tennis courts.
It uses 185 miles worth of fiber optic cables, enough to span the distance between New York and Baltimore. And it weighs 340 tons – about as heavy as 75 adult male African elephants.
A win for America
America’s leadership in science – high-power computing, to be precise – has been in question for the past few years.
A 2016 report from the National Security Agency and the Department of Energy warned that China was poised to outrank America in high-performance computing and asked for a surge of spending in supercomputing development.
The Chinese government has been working furiously on high-performance computing in recent years, investing billions in its tech industry.
Summit is twice as powerful – as measured in petaflops – as China’s 2017 winner of the world’s fastest supercomputer contest and eight times more powerful than Oak Ridge’s last system, Titan.
More than just bragging rights
Summit’s dominance is expected to be announced officially when the TOP500’s mid-year report comes out in a few weeks. It’s a list scientists put together twice a year of the top 500 fastest supercomputers.
“Unless the Chinese pull off some sort of surprise this month, the new system will vault the US back into first place,” the group said.
And it’s more than just a victory lap at stake.
Summit will be used, in part, to invigorate research on artificial intelligence, astronomy and health care. So, the technology to create robots, discover new stars in our galaxy and fight disease just got a big boost.