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Supercomputing Power Technology

Low Energy Supercomputing 159

Faith Singer at TACC writes "The term 'supercomputing' usually evokes images of large, expensive computer systems that calculate unfathomable algorithms and run on enough energy to support a small city. Now, imagine a supercomputer, but run on the electrical equivalent of three standard-size coffee-makers. This year's international supercomputing conference, SC10, will feature the Student Cluster Competition that challenges students to build, maintain, and run the most-cutting edge, commercially available high-performance computing (HPC) architectures on just 26 amps."
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Low Energy Supercomputing

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  • Sure Thing! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TheNinjaroach ( 878876 ) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @04:03PM (#33373096)
    Can I use as many volts as I'd like?
  • Amps? [pedant] (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MessyBlob ( 1191033 ) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @04:04PM (#33373114)
    Try Joules (in context as a total), or watts (as a measure per unit time).
  • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) * on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @04:04PM (#33373116)

    "The competition challenges students to build, maintain, and run a cutting edge, commercially available HPC architecture on just 26 amps of energy."

    Only problem is that the Ampere is a unit of CURRENT, not energy. It's like saying someone weighs 686 Newtons.

    While I understand that if the voltage is kept the same, then the amps are proportional to the energy involved per unit time because W = V x A. However 26 amps at 120 volts for 1 second is not the same energy as 26 amps at 5 million volts for 20 years.

  • by 31415926535897 ( 702314 ) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @04:17PM (#33373296) Journal

    You have variable voltage outlets?

  • by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @04:28PM (#33373434) Journal

    ARM would get you better performance per watt. Atoms only matter because they're x86.

  • Well.... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jd ( 1658 ) <imipak@@@yahoo...com> on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @04:41PM (#33373570) Homepage Journal

    This doesn't sound too difficult. The number one power-consumer is cooling. Distributing the same code over a larger surface area would allow you to reduce just how sophisticated and power-hungry your cooling needs to be. Any SIMD code will distribute just fine over such an architecture. If you're really clever, you'd design the cluster as a series of pentagons and hexagons, allowing you to build a geodesic. This would not only maximize the surface area but would also minimize the distance network traffic has to travel, networking being the biggest cause of latency in supercomputing. The really really clever geeks would then set up additional "regional" networks to allow for much higher performance when handling code that needed to talk much more locally, then distribute the code according to those regions. (Essentially, you then have a cluster of clusters.)

  • by Seth Kriticos ( 1227934 ) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @04:43PM (#33373584)

    Yup. Just to add some international touch to it: here in central Europe we have 240-250V outlets, which is radically different from the U.S., so putting amperage even with implied voltage is at least confusing and entirely unscientific and shows a lack of understanding about even the most basic principles of unit notations.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @04:44PM (#33373596)

    See, this is why some people are sticklers for grammar, spelling, and capitalization rules. Of course they're using atoms. But are they using Atoms? Your error is needlessly confusing and detracts from your point.

  • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) * on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @04:46PM (#33373626)

    The only problem with your analogy is that in physics, Newtons are actually a unit for weight

          You're right and I saw that after I hit the submit button. It would work better had I said mass :)

          As for the power source - my home computer's power supply provides 24 volts to the motherboard. My laptop uses 19 volts. Potential at the plug socket is not necessarily the potential that is used by the machine. Especially since electronics usually convert AC to DC and use DC in their circuits. Therefore I would argue that your "assumption" is incorrect - there's no way to know what voltage they plan on using. It can't be that hard to imagine 240V or even 550V for an "industrial strength" supercomputer. Why assume 110V?

  • by gox ( 1595435 ) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @05:07PM (#33373902)

    I've always found electric heaters (including geysers, etc. but mostly environmental heating) a huge waste of low entropy. You can achieve the same goal by powering enough chips -- would work especially well for floor heating. Now, if you're not recycling old computers, it might cost some, but if our only constraint is energy, we can thus create a supercomputer that spends 0 energy "for itself", just by installing this system to a few buildings.

    You could even communicate through the power line, thus eliminating the need for a separate network installation. "Buy our @home geyser, that pays for itself!", that sort of thing...

  • by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @05:42PM (#33374444) Journal

    Moreover, all hardware must be in production and unmodified

    That's an odd requirement. IMO a team that could design and build their own hardware that's more efficient than off the shelf hardware should be encouraged to do so.

  • by ichthus ( 72442 ) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @05:42PM (#33374446) Homepage

    Only programmers are allowed to be wrong all the time. Make one mistake in hardware, and you'll get heat. Make ten thousand mistakes in software, eh, people shrug their shoulders.

    *Cough* Um, unless you're an embedded programmer. Then, you're expected to fix hardware guy's mistakes by making changes to the firmware.

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