A giant computer in a United States Government laboratory that is helping to solve some of the world's energy problems is to be upgraded to make its own work more energy efficient and more effective. The Jaguar supercomputer at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory of the Department of Energy (DoE) was, until June 2010 when a Chinese machine topped it, the world's fastest computer.
The DoE are going back to the machine's builders, Cray, to speed up the Jaguar while also making it more energy efficient. This machine is a million miles away from anything sat in a home or office; its performance is measured in petaflops - that's one thousand million million (a quadrillion) calculations each second. At the moment, the DoE rates the machine's operating system at 2.3 million billion calculations per second, but the new XK6 system will operate at a top rate of between 10 and 20 petaflops. The appropriate new name for this computing beast will be Titan and it will be ready to put its power to the test early in 2013.
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With a host of other technical improvements, Titan will run simulations to test hypotheses in DoE areas of interest, including how to make biofuels an economically feasible proposition and manufacturing biomaterials (substances which can interact with living tissue) from plants like poplar trees and switchgrass.
Titan will also try to find ways to make old fashioned combustion engines - on which we still rely for most of our energy use - more efficient. Solar and nuclear power will both be studied, the first to try and make it more efficient, the second safer. Pollution and climate change issues will also be processed through this giant electronic brain.
Thom Mason is the director of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and he said: "Titan will allow for significantly greater realism in models and simulations and the resulting scientific breakthroughs and technological innovations will provide the return on this national investment."
As well as expanding its computing power, the upgrade aims to get more bang for Titan's energy buck with a new type of general processing unit which use less electricity.
Additional information about Titan is available on the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility website.