When compared with those Apple IIe computers I first used, sending a triangular "turtle" across the screen to draw a picture during Computer Lab in elementary school, the iMac I now work on seems incredibly slick in design, complex in function, and fast. Today's supercomputers, though, and tens of thousands of times faster than any desktop computer, making it possible to complete tasks like simulating global climate that 20 years ago were the stuff of science fiction. In that time, supercomputers, like regular computers, have gotten cheaper and faster and become more common. Here are the 10 fastest:
10. Red Sky, Sandia National Laboratories, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Performance: 423.9 teraflop/s
Red Sky is intended to be Sandia's "everyday" computer, used for small- and medium-sized jobs, replacing Thunderbird. Sandia's other supercomputers include ASCI Red and Red Storm, which are used in nuclear weapons research.
9. Ranger, Texas Advanced Computing Center, Austin, Texas
Performance: 433.20 teraflop/s
Ranger is the largest computer to be part of the National Science Foundation's TeraGrid. Academic scientists apply for time on the supercomputer to research a variety of subjects, including climate change, water resource management, and drug design.
8. BlueGene/P Intrepid, Argonne National Laboratory, Argonne, Illinois
Performance: 458.61 teraflop/s
Completed in 2007, Argonne's Intrepid was used to simulate a supernova (stellar explosion) earlier this year.
7. BlueGene/L, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Livermore, California
Performance: 478.2 teraflop/s
BlueGene/L was designed to address issues associated with aging nuclear weapons owned by the United States.
6. Pleiades, NASA/Ames Research Center, Moffet Field, California
Performance: 544.3 teraflop/s
With Pleiades, NASA scientists are investigating dark matter halos, galaxy evolution, future space vehicle design and climate change.
5. Tianhe-1, National SuperComputer Center/Chinese National University of Defense Technology, Tianjin, China
Performance: 563.1 teraflop/s
The fastest computer in Asia, Tianhe-1 is used for petroleum exploration and engineering tasks, such as aircraft design.
4. JUGENE, Forschungszentrum Juelich, Juelich, Germany
Performance: 825.5 teraflop/s
Scientists at this research center can request time on JUGENE, Europe's fastest supercomputer, for their research, which includes particle physics, materials science and medicine.
3. Kraken, National Institute for Computational Sciences/University of Tennessee, Oak Ridge, Tennessee
Performance: 832 teraflop/s
Since its completion in 2007, Kraken, the world's fastest academic supercomputer, has been used in nearly 300 scientific projects, ranging from weather modeling to medicine.
2. Roadrunner, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, New Mexico
Performance: 1.04 petaflop/s
Though Roadrunner was designed to complement nuclear weapons research taking place at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the computer may also get used for research in areas such as HIV vaccine development, cosmology and ocean modeling.
1. Jaguar, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, Tennessee
Performance: 1.75 petaflop/s
For the first time, a civilian supercomputer tops the list. The National Center for Computational Sciences proudly boasts that their Jaguar gets used in the investigation of some of science's most pressing issues, such as sequestering carbon, harnessing solar energy and designing drugs to treat Alzheimer's disease.