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The term, supercomputer, is generally applied to the fastest high-performance systems available at any given time. Today's supercomputers are capable of massive computing power.

Common applications for supercomputers are those for which large amounts of data needs to be calculated and processed very quickly, such as testing mathematical models for climate research and weather forecasting, space research, quantum mechanics, cryptology, and the development of new compounds.

In contrast to traditional computers, which have one central processing unit (CPU), supercomputers are likely to have several CPUs, capable of performing trillions of complex calculations per second. To support this extremely high computational speed, supercomputers have to be capable of rapidly retrieving stored data and instructions. This requires very large storage capacity, as well as rapid input/output capability.

Another characteristic of supercomputers is their use of vector arithmetic, which is the ability to operate on pairs of lists of numbers rather than on mere pairs of numbers.

The world's fastest supercomputers, today, are Linux-based systems.

Cited as the first supercomputer, the Livermore Atomic Research Computer (LARC) was built by UNIVAC for the US Navy Research and Development Center in 1960. Another early supercomputer was the IBM 7030 Stretch, which was built by IBM for the Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1961, where it was used in atomic weapons research. The IBM 7950 Harvest was used for cryptanalysis by the US National Security Agency from 1962 to 1976.

The third supercomputer of the early 1960s was the Atlas Computer, developed by the University of Manchester. Atlas was a second-generation computer, as it used transistors rather than vacuum tubes. Two other Atlas computers were built, one for British Petroleum and the University of London, the other for that Atlas Computer Laboratory at Chilton.

The CDC 6500 was designed by Seymour Cray. Completed in 1964, it was the first to use silicon rather than germanium transistors, as silicon ran faster. Refrigeration technology was used to reduce problems with overheating.

In 1972, Cray left Control Data Corporation to form Cray Research, which developed the Cray-1 in 1976, and the Cray-2 in 1985. It was the world's second-fastest supercomputer after the M-13 supercomputer in Moscow.

Developed in the late 1960s, the ILLIAC IV became the first massively parallel computer. Designed at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and built by the Burroughs Corporation, the ILLIAC had up to 128 parallel processors and was designed for ARPA. After a few years of modifications, it was connected to ARPANet for distributed use in 1975, becoming the first network-available supercomputer.

Early supercomputers used operating systems that were specifically designed for the computers they were used in, the recent trend has been to adopt more generic software, such as Linux. Since massively parallel supercomputers usually separate computations from other services they provide, they generally run different operating systems on different nodes, using a lightweight kernel on computer nodes, but a larger OS on server and input/output nodes. Although most supercomputers use a Linux OS, each manufacturer has its own specific Linux derivative.

Since 1993, the fastest supercomputers have been ranked on a TOP500 list according to LINPACK benchmark results. In 2020, the fastest supercomputer is Summit. Built by IBM, it is located at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The next fastest computer includes Sierra (IBM), Sunway TaihuLight (NRCPC), Tianhe-2A (NUDT), Frontera (Dell EMC), Piz Daint (Cray), Trinity (Cray), AI Bridging Cloud Infrastructure (Fujitsu), SuperMUC-NG (Lenovo), and Lassen (IBM).

Topics about supercomputers, in general, are appropriate for this category, as are those relating to any specific supercomputer, past or present.



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