The cheap supercomputer

By Motoko Kakubayashi 29/11/2009 2


Using parts sold at your local electronics store to make a supercomputer?  Sounds like something MacGyver would do.

But at last week’s Supercomputing Conference in Oregon, USA, a Gordon Bell Prize was awarded to a team of researchers who did just that.

Nagasaki University associate professor Tsuyoshi Hamada and his team spent a mere NZ$600,000 to develop their supercomputer made from 256 graphics processing units.  These graphics processing units are commonly found in mobiles, computers, and game consoles because they are efficient at manipulating computer graphics.  The parts are commonly found in electronics stores around Tokyo’s Akihabara – the electric city and geek town of Japan.

The average supercomputer can cost anything from NZ$2 million, so this really was a bargain.

The prize-winning supercomputer was able to perform at 42Teraflops, or 42000000000000 instructions or calculations each second.

Mr Hamada and his team had spent three years developing their currently 380 graphics processing unit supercomputer.

Nagasaki University associate professor Tsuyoshi Hamada stands next to his team's 380 graphics processing unit supercomputer
Nagasaki University associate professor Tsuyoshi Hamada stands next to his team's 380 graphics processing unit supercomputer

The Gordon Bell prizes are awarded to conference exhibits which show the best high performance computing applications.  Past recipients include New Zealander Ian Foster, the “father of grid computing” according to a scientific advancement organisation, Lifeboat Foundation.

The Supercomputing Conference has been held every year since 1987.  It is an international conference which draws in exhibits in areas of high performance computing, networking, storage, and analysis.


2 Responses to “The cheap supercomputer”

  • Hi Motoko,

    I like your “Japanese gadget” posts 🙂

    Using graphics cards as general-purpose computational units is one of those many things I’d like to look into if only I could find time… For example, one of the new features of the latest update of Apple’s Mac OS X is tools for developers to tap into some models of graphics cards to extend the computing power of the machine. The thing I wanted to mention is that in a very small-scale way we should be seeing this approach in consumer-grade computers with a few extra graphics cards plugged in over the next few years.

    (PS: In case you miss it, I’m one of your fellow sciblings!)