World's most powerful supercomputer becomes operational

Novo-G gets the first part of its name from the Latin term for "make anew, change, alter" and the second from "G" for "genesis." A "reconfigurable" computer, it can re-arrange its internal circuitry to suit the task at hand.

Applications range from calculations with data from space satellites to other supercomputers, said Alan George, professor at the University of Florida's (UF) National Science Foundation Centre (NSF) for high-performance reconfigurable computing.

"It is very powerful technology, but it is also very complicated technology," George said. "We don't want this important technology to be accessible only to experts."

Traditional computers use so-called "fixed logic devices" to perform a large variety of tasks. But this jack-of-all-trades approach requires a substantial amount of overhead in space and energy, no matter what work needs to be done.

On the other hand, special-purpose computers can be built to perform certain tasks very well but are not flexible. Reconfigurable computers make the best of both worlds, George said. That is because they can rearrange their internal circuitry like Lego blocks, creating the most appropriate architecture for each assignment. As a result, a reconfigurable computer can be from 10 to 100 times faster than other computers its size while using five to 10 times less energy.

Although the concept has been proven, reconfigurable computers remain at the research stage and are not easy to use. One of the main goals of the NSF Centre is to pioneer techniques to make reconfigurable computers more accessible.

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