A new supercomputer just set a world record for speed

The souped-up machine can perform more than a quintillion calculations per second

Frontier supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory

The Frontier supercomputer (pictured) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee can perform more than a quintillion calculations per second.

Carlos Jones/ORNL/U.S. Department of Energy

A new supercomputer just passed a major milestone. It is the first to officially reach the “exascale.” That means it can perform at least 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 calculations per second. You can simply refer to that as a quintillion calculations per second!

The new computer is called Frontier. Its exascale status was announced on May 30 by the TOP500. That’s a ranking of the world’s speediest supercomputers. It’s updated twice each year.

Such fast computing could help research in physics, medicine and many other fields. Scientists in those fields often need to make complex calculations. Some of that work would take too long to do with a normal computer. But a machine like Frontier manage it.

The power of this computer is “unprecedented,” says Justin Whitt. He’s Frontier’s project director. He works at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. That’s where Frontier is located. But scientists around the world will be able to use Frontier, he says.

Frontier’s computing speed clocked in at about 1.1 exaflops. That translates to about 1.1 quintillion operations per second. With that speed, Frontier beat out the old record-holder. That was a supercomputer called Fugaku. It’s at the RIKEN Center for Computational Science in Kobe, Japan. In the past, it achieved more than 0.4 exaflops.

It’s possible that another supercomputer broke the exascale barrier first. Some reports say that Chinese computers have already reached this milestone. But they have not been reported on the TOP500 ranking so far.

It took about three years to build Frontier. It will be ready for scientists to begin using it for their work later this year. Some will use it to model how stars explode. Others will calculate the properties of tiny particles. Still others may investigate new energy sources. And artificial intelligence run on such a fast computer could be super smart. Such a brainy AI could come up with better ways to diagnose or prevent diseases.

Science News physics writer Emily Conover studied physics at the University of Chicago. She loves physics for its ability to reveal the secret rules about how stuff works, from tiny atoms to the vast cosmos.

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