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Nvidia chips in with world’s most powerful computer

October 11, 2011

Nvidia, which got its start making processors for computer game enthusiasts, has won another victory for parrallel computing with the inclusion of its graphics chips in what is expected to be the world’s fastest supercomputer.

The Titan computer being built for the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tenn should boast a record 20 petaflops of peak performance — that’s about 20 million billion math operations per second.

By the time it is complete in 2013, the computer will be driven by 18,000 Nvidia graphic processor units, or GPUs, along with an equivalent number of central processors made by rival Advanced Micro Devices.

Keenly aware of explosive growth in tablets, smartphones and cloud computings, Nvidia is looking beyond its core business of designing chips that make games and videos look better on PCs.

As well as making sleek chips for smartphones, Nvidia is  promoting its graphics technology to be used for for new purposes, including supercomputers running simulations in astrophysics and other math-heavy tasks.

While traditional central processors found in computers are designed to make huge calculations very quickly, one after another, graphics processors, or GPUs, excel at carrying out several small calculations at the same time, which makes them handy for specific kinds of tasks.

As microchips being built with more and more transistors consume growing amounts of electricity, engineers are turning to GPUs, which are giving them more bang for their buck, Steve Scott, Chief Technology Officer of Nvidia’s Tesla business, told Reuters.

“It’s all about power,” he said. “If you go back four years, basically no supercomputers would have had GPUs in them. It’s been a tremendous ramp.”

About 85 percent of Titan’s peak performance is expected to come from the Nvidia chips.

Nvidia’s high-end Tesla GPUs, which sell for around $2,000 each, are already used in the world’s second, fourth and fifth most powerful computers.

When fully up and running, Titan, being built by Cray, should be twice as fast as the world’s current top computer, which is in Japan and is called the K computer.

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