Every six months researchers compile a list of the 500 fastest computers on the planet. Here we sum up the latest top 10 ranked according to their LINPACK benchmark performance score, which ranks each system according to both maximum and theoretical peak performance.
1. IBM BlueGene/Q 'Sequoia'
You would expect IBM to be a major force in high-end supercomputers, and you'd be right. IBM's biggest, fastest system to date is a custom-built supercomputer that can deliver over 16 petaflops of computing power. Located at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, California, it will be used to manage the US nuclear arsenal by enabling uncertainty quantification calculations to help extend the life of ageing weapons systems. Sequoia is one of the most energy-efficient systems in the world consuming just 7.9MW of power, equivalent to approximately 2.07TFlops per watt.
CPU Cores: 1,572,864; CPU type: IBM Power BQC 16 core 1.6GHz; Power: 7.9MW; Rmax: 16.3PFlops; Rpeak 20.1PFlops; OS: Red Hat Enterprise Linux.
2. Fujitsu 'K Computer'
The K computer has inhabited top spot on the TOP500 list since June 2011, having upgraded its CPU cores to stay ahead of the game. Its owner, the RIKEN Advanced Institute for Computa'tional Science in Japan, uses the super'computer to conduct a wide range of simulation research and human resource development programmes in fields as diverse as manufacturing, nanotechnology, disaster prevention, aerospace, astronomy and astrophysics.
CPU Cores: 705,024; CPU type: Fujitsu SPARC64 Vllfx 2.0GHz; Power 12.7MW; Rmax 10.5PFlops; Rpeak: 11.3PFlops; OS: Linux.
3. IBM BlueGene/Q 'Mira'
When it is completed in October 2012, Mira will provide up to five billion processor-hours per year to scientists and engineers affiliated to the US Department of Energy Office of Science to run complex simulations from its base at the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, which says it will accept applications for time on Mira from any researcher in the world.
CPU Cores: 786,432; CPU type: IBM Power BQC 16 core 1.6GHz; Power: 3.9MW; Rmax 8.2PFlops; Rpeak 10.1PFlops; OS: Linux.
4. IBM System x iDataPlex 'SuperMUC'
Located at the Leibniz-Rechenzentrum (LRZ) near Munich, SuperMUC was made fully operational in June 2012, using water cooling rather than air cooling to reduce its power consumption by up to 40 per cent. It has been integrated into the European High Performance Computing (EHPC) ecosystem which means its processing power can be accessed by accredited European researchers involved in major science and engineering projects - a major benefit for establishments that cannot afford supercomputing resources.
CPU Cores: 147,456; CPU type: Intel Xeon E-2680 8 core 2.7GHz; Power: 3.4MW; Rmax: 2.8PFlops; Rpeak: 3PFlops; OS: Suse Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) 11 SP2.
5. NUDT YH MPP 'Tiahne-1A'
Designed and built by the Chinese National University of Defense Technology (NUDT), Tiahne-1A presently resides in the National Supercomputing Centre in Tianjin where it is has been used for a range of oil exploration, bioengineering and drug research, construction and meteorological research projects since 2010.
CPU Cores: 186,368; CPU Type: Intel Xeon 6 core 2.93GHz; Power: 4MW; Rmax 2.5PFlops; Rpeak: 4.6PFlops; OS: Linux.
6. Cray XK6 'Jaguar'
One of the few super-computers in the top ten at least to feature AMD processors (63 Opteron systems make the entire TOP500 compared to 372 based on Intel CPUs), the XK6 Jaguar is another owned by the US Department of Energy's Science Office, this one located at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. Reports suggest it is set for a major upgrade involving Nvidia GPUs this year designed to increase its peak processing capacity to 20PFlops, at which point it will be renamed 'Titan'.
CPU Cores: 298,592; CPU type: AMD Opteron 16 core 2.2GHz; Power 5.1MW; Rmax: 1.9PFlops; Rpeak: 2.6PFlops; OS: Cray Linux Environment.
7. IBM BlueGene/Q 'Fermi'
Fermi was built for CINECA, a consortium of 54 Italian universities, the Italian National Institute of Oceanography and Experimental Geophysics, the National Research Council and the Ministry of Education, University and Research, which is based in Bologna. Its processing power has enabled CINECA has become a hosting site for the same Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe (PRACE) alongside the SuperMUC in Germany and Curie thin nodes in France, supporting grid computing, bioinformatics and digital content technology research projects.
CPU Cores: 163,840; CPU type: IBM Power BQC 16 core 1.6GHz; Power: 8.2MW; Rmax 1.7TFlops; Rpeak: 2.1TFlops; OS: Linux.
8. IBM BlueGene/Q 'JuQUEEN'
The latest system to be installed at the Forschungszentrum Juelich (FZJ) super-computing centre in Germany is the fastest in a stable of machines run by the research facility and one of the greenest, said to use a quarter of the power of the BlueGene/Q based JuGene (number 25 in the TOP500 list) it will eventually replace and match Sequioa by delivering 2.02TFlops per watt. It will be used by scientists from the Jülich-Aachen Research Alliance (JARA) to support research into material sciences, energy, aerodynamics and the environment.
CPU Cores: 131,072; CPU type: IBM Power BQC 16 core 1.6GHz; Power 657.5kW; Rmax 1.4PFlops; Rpeak: 1.7PFlops; OS: Linux.
9. Bull 'Curie thin nodes'
Installed in France at the Très Grand Centre de Calcul operated by the Commissariat à l'Energie Atomique, CURIE is another system made available under the PRACE Research Infrastructure programme giving European researchers from academia and industry the means to run CPU-intensive applications. The "thin nodes" tag differentiates the system from its sibling supercomputer "Curie fat nodes" resident at the same facility and occupying number 245 in the TOP500 list.
CPU Cores: 77,184; CPU Type: Intel Xeon E5-2680 8 core 2.7GHz; Power 2.2MW; Rmax: 1.3PFlops; Rpeak: 1.6PFlops; OS: bullx SUperCOmputer Suite A.E.2.1.
10. Dawning 'Nebulae'
Manufactured by Chinese supercomputer specialist Dawning, the Nebulae is used by the Shenzhen Institutes of Advanced Technology for research into biomedicine, biotechnology, health engineering, advanced computing, electric vehicles, cloud computing and nano medicine.
CPU Cores: 120,640; CPU Type: Intel Xeon X5650 6 core 2.66GHz; Power 2.6MW; Rmax 1.3PFlops; Rpeak: 3PFlops; OS: Linux.