The History and Usage of Supercomputers

A supercomputer is a computer designed to achieve the highest possible performance with known technologies at its design, particularly in terms of speed of calculation.

The first supercomputers emerged in the 1960s, designed by Seymour Cray for the company Control Data Corporation (CDC), the leading global supercomputer company in the 1970s. In the 1980s, like what happened in the market for minicomputers a decade earlier, many small companies have embarked on this market, but most have disappeared in the “crash” of the mid-1990s. Today supercomputers are most often designed by manufacturers like IBM and HP.

The term supercomputer itself is rather vague and evolving, as the most powerful computers in the world at one time tend to be matched and then surpassed by machines used today. The CDC’s first supercomputers were simple single-processor computers (but sometimes with up to ten processor devices for input-output) approximately ten times faster than the competition. In the 1970s most supercomputers had adopted a vector processor that performs decoding of a direction once to apply to a range of operands.

Only in the late 1980s that the technique of massively parallel systems was adopted, using a supercomputer of even thousands of processors. Today some of these parallel supercomputers using RISC microprocessors are designed for computer series, such as the PowerPC or PA-RISC.[1] Other processors use lower cost RISC CISC firmware on the chip (AMD, Intel): performance is a bit lower, but the channel access memory — often bottlenecked — Is far less solicited.


Supercomputers are used for all tasks requiring very high computing power such as weather forecasting, climate research, molecular modeling (computing the structures and properties of chemical compounds …), physical simulations (aerodynamic simulations, Calculations of resistance materials, simulated explosion of nuclear weapons, study of nuclear fusion …), cryptanalysis, and so on.[2]

Research institutions, civilian and military, are among the biggest users of supercomputers. In France, there are machines in national centers of academic calculations such as IDRIS, CINES, but also at CEA. In January 2006, the most powerful European supercomputer was the TERA-10 developed by Bull generating 60 teraflops. In April 2008, GENC commissioned a Bull machine at nearly 300 teraflops. The level of Petaflops (1000 teraflops) was taken by an IBM machine called “Roadrunner” which is also the most effective in terms of energy consumption.[1]

Supercomputers are definitely vital in simulations testing. The medical and scientific fields gain the most benefit from this. With the advent of Artificial Intelligence (AI) it may be possible in the future for computers to be better at processing than the human mind itself.

The CPU Versus the Computer Tower Case

I’ve been observing other people when they buy different computer parts or sometimes even when they are just talking about it. It’s perfectly understandable if a person do not really know what a computer part is and what it is commonly called. But there’s one thing that I have observed that quite a lot of people say that is different from what I understand. They call the entire tower case as the CPU.

First let’s differentiate the two. The CPU is the central processing unit or in more popular terms, the computer microprocessor. It is often referred to as the brain of the computer as it is the one governing the functions of your computer. It’s a small chip with several pins that fits into the processor slot of the motherboard. I provided a picture of one of my processors as a sample.

The computer case is where the integral parts of the computer are housed. It usually has the motherboard, processor, memory modules, data cables, and the optical and hard drives. The case serves as protection for these parts as they are sensitive and can easily be damaged by mere touching. Static electricity is a major and common cause of computer circuitry damage. If you are not used to or not familiar on how to work with the innards of a computer, ask for assistance first.

Here’s a situation I encountered in one of the computer shops that I usually go to when I buy computer parts. I’ve had several other similar stories though when someone asked for a CPU when they actually meant the whole tower.

You can read more about the best cpu coolers at that article that was super useful to me.

A lady approached the computer salesman and asked how much is the CPU. The guy told her that it’s around $150 for a fairly powerful quad-core processor. And then she told the salesman that she wanted a tall and silver/white one where there are nice power buttons and lots of drive spaces and a couple of cool lights.

The salesman got confused but he figured out that she was referring to the entire tower case. He explained to the lady what the CPU is and she started to think twice about buying because she was just informed that a computer won’t work with the processor alone or if it’s just a tower case. Thus, she had to buy all of the other parts.

Come to think of it, the thinking of a computer happens inside the tower case and you can call it a central processing unit, literally, by itself if you like. But again, it’s just a matter of opinion and we’re free to call things however we may want. I guess it’s just to clear the confusion especially if the two parties think the opposite ways. Just be clear on what you really mean so that just like in the situation I mentioned above, the other party may be able to understand what you really want or need.

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