Pop quiz: Which of the following are top 100 roller coasters, and which are among the top 500 supercomputers?
The names: Stampede, Riptide, El Gato, Midway, Zeus, Hercules, Jet, Blue Wonder, HokieSpeed, HiPerGator, Millenium Force, Behemoth, Goliath, GateKeeper, The Beast, Mindbender, Xcelerator, Magnum XL-200, Kraken, Titan.
Answer: The first ten are the names of supercomputers; the next eight are roller coasters. The last two are names shared by both.
The University of Arizona recently spent part of a $1.3 million grant on a computer upgrade — a new supercomputer ranked 336th on the list of the world's 500 fastest.
The computer, which is housed in three refrigerator-sized cabinets, is dubbed “El Gato.” The name is reportedly an abbreviation — selectively taking letters from the phrase “extremely large advanced technology” system — though it's also likely a nod to the university's wildcat mascot.
Professors at the university say El Gato’s processing power will help conduct research that requires multiple calculations to run at the same time, and it will deliver results with more detail. For example, it has already calculated the location of more than 1 billion dark-matter particles in a simulation of the universe.
Purchased with help from a National Science Foundation grant, the supercomputer is also ranked seventh in the world on the Green500 list of energy-efficient supercomputers. El Gato runs on a 145-teraflops system (one teraflop equals 1 trillion mathematical operations per second) and has 13 times more processing capacity than what was previously the University of Arizona's most powerful computer.
Given Arizona's new bragging rights, how do the supercomputers housed at other U.S. universities stack up? The updated TOP500 supercomputer rankings will be released on June 23rd, but until then, these seven university-owned supercomputers in the U.S. are currently ranked within the list's top 100.
1. Stampede, Texas Advanced Computing Center/University of Texas
This computer has a maximum speed of 5,168 teraflops and is ranked seventh on the latest TOP500 list, in addition to holding the No. 52 spot on Green500's list. The university also has the TOP500's 153rd ranked computer: Lonestar 4, with a top speed of 251 teraflops. Among the research projects utilizing Stampede is the study of graphene, an excellent conductor of electricity and heat that might emerge as a replacement for silicon.
2. Conte, Purdue University
A year ago, Purdue University built Conte, a supercomputer with a sustained measured maximum speed of 943 teraflops. Now it has a speed of more than 977 teraflops, and ranks No. 33 on the TOP500 list and No. 39 on the Green500 list. The computer is used by faculty conducting research on, among other things, atmospheric gases that cause global warming, atom-scale models related to batteries, and future computer processors, high-resolution weather forecasts, and viruses. In June 2013, Purdue claimed Conte was the most powerful university supercomputer, ranked 28th on the TOP500 list.
3. Kraken, National Institute for Computational Sciences/University of Tennessee
At 919 teraflops, this computer is ranked No. 35 by TOP500. Kraken, which shares its name with a legendary giant squid, has been used to simulate earthquake scenarios, to help understand black hole events, and to analyze how protoplanetary turbulence leads to the creation of stars and planets.
4. AMOS, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
The RPI computer is ranked 38th in the world at 894 teraflops, and comes in at No. 21 on the Green500 list. The school upgraded from an IBM BlueGene/L to a BlueGene/Q in October 2013. Among the projects run on the computer are models that show how fluids interact with wind turbine blades, to help develop turbines that generate more power.
5. Big Red II, Indiana University
Big Red II is No. 53 on the TOP500 list, with a speed of 597 teraflops. Big Red II is 25 times faster than its predecessor, and it was planned to be used for research in the areas of, among other things, mining social media data for economic predictions, human genome sets, weather, blood circulation, large-scale molecular dynamics, aerospace engineering, and microbe behavior. It comes in 48th on the Green 500 list.
6. HPCC, University of Southern California
Ranked 60th with a top speed of 531 teraflops, HPCC is also No. 18 on the Green500 list. The computer supports more than 110 research groups, including those focused on epigenetics, geophysics, materials science, engineering, natural language translation, and health sciences.
7. Palmetto2, Clemson University
At a speed of 397 teraflops, Palmetto — called a “pioneering example of a computer condominium” by Clemson — is the Top500's No. 81. Its computing resources are administered and supported by IT staff and used by researchers, students, and faculty from more than 40 academic departments. Palmetto debuted in 2008 at a speed of 31 teraflops.