U.S. supercomputer breaks the speed limit!

No, it didn't drive off in a race car, we're talking about its computing speed
Behold, the new Frontier! (Carlos Jones/ORNL/U.S. Department of Energy)

Okay, class! You've got a half an hour to complete these twenty math problems ...

Only a half an hour? Oh no! That's just 30 minutes. That means we have to finish one math problem every... one minute and thirty seconds! (Do we get bonus points for figuring that part out?)

One calculation every 1:30. That sounds pretty fast, right? But the Frontier supercomputer laughs at the speed of our so-called quick calculations. Come to think of it, the Frontier supercomputer laughs at all other calculators and computers. That's because this machine, which lives at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, US, just broke the speed limit for solving equations. Its speed?

Over one quintillion calculations per second. That's 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 every single second.

Uh, can this thing do our homework, please?

Enter the exascale

Embed from Getty Images

The previous record holder for the world's fastest supercomputer was Fugaku at the Riken Center for Computational Science in Kobe, Japan. It could process at 0.4 exaflops. (Getty Embed)

This mindblowingly quick pace makes Frontier the world's fastest computer, as well as the world's first-ever exascale computer. That means that it has broken the quintillion calculations per second barrier.

Officially, the speed of Frontier clocks in at 1.1 exaflops. (Yes, that is a real term—exaflops!) That works out to, wait for it, 1.1 quintillion calculations per second. Did you ever think that you'd read the word 'quintillion' so much in a single article? That also brings up an interesting point.

While it is no doubt fast, just what exactly do you use an exascale computer for?

New breakthroughs possible

On one hand, there's no question that Frontier is too powerful to be helping you with your homework. But what if your homework was:

  • plotting the formation of future galaxies?
  • mapping out the genomes of living things?
  • investigating cures or treatments for diseases?

For leading scientists, researchers, and doctors, answering those sorts of questions is their homework. And Frontier is the most powerful tool on the planet to help them finish that homework on time.

That's because attempting to answer these sorts of questions requires the ability to make many billions of calculations in the blink of an eye. What's that? Only billions of calculations? Frontier does that without breaking a sweat!

The staff at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory say that Frontier's epic power will be available to researchers starting later this year.

Until then, take a tour of this enormous and enormously powerful computer for yourself in the video below.

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