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Space Supercomputing Science

All Systems Go For Highest Altitude Supercomputer 36

An anonymous reader writes "One of the most powerful supercomputers in the world has now been fully installed and tested at its remote, high altitude site in the Andes of northern Chile. It's a critical part of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), the most elaborate ground-based astronomical telescope in history. The special-purpose ALMA correlator has over 134 million processors and performs up to 17 quadrillion operations per second, a speed comparable to the fastest general-purpose supercomputer in operation today."
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All Systems Go For Highest Altitude Supercomputer

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  • and (Score:2, Funny)

    by ozduo ( 2043408 )
    was it running windows 8 ?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      Better question: Why doesn't it have a touch screen? A computer isn't "modern" without a touch screen
      • Better question: Why doesn't it have a touch screen? A computer isn't "modern" without a touch screen

        WTF is wrong with you?

        Everybody knows touchscreens don't want to be vertical!

    • No, because it would be a shame to have a blue screen of death rendered in .00001 ms

    • Everyone knows it's running XP, took a while to sort out the license though.
    • was it running windows 8 ?

      "was it running windows 8 ?"

      Bad question. You are not allowed to defile people with disabilities, in most countries.

      For me, running Wndows 8 equates you have some retardation. This is my understanding of it.

      I may be wrong, but no-one has ever contested that with any medical proof.

  • by Sparticus789 ( 2625955 ) on Friday December 21, 2012 @05:23PM (#42364131) Journal

    It's so fast, we could point it at Tau Ceti and count all the Vulcan pointy ears in 8.56 seconds!

  • by Ragzouken ( 943900 ) on Friday December 21, 2012 @05:24PM (#42364135)

    How does that bode for cosmic rays?

  • Almost as good as my raspberry pi.
  • by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Friday December 21, 2012 @05:37PM (#42364267)
    Any of you familiar enough with this kind of thing to identify what sort of hardware [eso.org] they used? This seems like a really neat application of special-purpose hardware. Please, no complaining about how bad it would probably score on Linpack - this is a purpose-built computer for a specific job. Custom boards are so seldom justified these days, I envy the engineers who got to do this.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 21, 2012 @05:53PM (#42364443)


      Bit of details about it. The comment that this is as fast as a general purpose supercomputer is totally out of context. This is doing fast sums and correlations (DSP) using FPGA technology. When a general purpose system is measured in the PetaFlops (ie: Linpack) it is doing much more sophisticated calculations and this really isn't comparing apples to apples at all. A lot of hyperbole in the comment about "performance." No question this is a spectacular piece of engineering and the custom board & FPGA work is very cool, but the LHC has filters and realtime compute facilities that are orders of magnitude more sophisticated than this. (I'm not putting this down, just trying to relate it to something else out there).

  • by Dan East ( 318230 ) on Friday December 21, 2012 @05:49PM (#42364403) Journal

    I noticed in the pictures that the techs have to wear O2 backpacks with nasal cannulas because the air is so thin at that altitude. I wonder how that affects hardware cooling, since the air is less dense and thus cannot remove as much heat from the hardware.

    • RTFA (Score:5, Informative)

      by msauve ( 701917 ) on Friday December 21, 2012 @05:56PM (#42364483)
      "At 5000 metres, the air is thin, so twice the normal airflow is necessary to cool the machine, which draws some 140 kilowatts of power."
      • I wonder, do you think it would be any more efficient if they somehow compressed the cooling airflow? I would think utilizing the Venturi effect [wikipedia.org], they could increase the incoming air velocity with minimal power usage.
        • by Anonymous Coward

          They could try to take advantage of these mini tornadoes [slashdot.org] for both the airflow and the energy that it creates. Talk about serendipity!

      • by dargaud ( 518470 )
        Having run computer systems for a year in Antarctica [gdargaud.net] at over 10000ft altitude, I wish them well... I've had lots of problems with:
        • difficulty in cooling systems: the thinner and dryer air means than there's less evacuation of heat. Meaning you need to run your fans at higher speed, meaning they don't last long. I exhausted all my spares halfway through. Your disks and CPUs run at higher temps, which is particularly hard on the disks.
        • problems with hard drives which I have no proof but wonder if the head fl
  • by msauve ( 701917 ) on Friday December 21, 2012 @05:50PM (#42364421)
    Computers are getting more like people. Now they're even getting high.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    It could be interesting, as a side benefit, if this helps provide more data on single event upsets due to the higher influx of cosmic rays.


  • Do any space probes carry what qualifies as a supercomputer? Those are rather higher in altitude than any mountaintop.

    • Computers on space probes barely qualify as computers, by modern standards. They're limited to slow old hardware that has been proven against radiation, and can run at achingly low power levels. Raspberry-Pi is probably faster.

      If someone could come up with a modern-speed chip that was equally radiation proof, it would revolutionise space-probes and rovers.

      • "barely qualify". nonsense, the definition of a computer hasn't changed. Computers of 70 years ago are still computers. The four bit microprocessor Intel made that showed up in the first generation of electronic calculators is still a computer. In fact, the analog computer circuits of 80 years ago are still computers, taking information input, transforming it, and giving an information output.

    • Space probes run on a couple of lightbulbs worth of power for flight control, communications, instruments and sometimes heat source combined. For example, Curiosity, the newest Mars rover runs on 125 watts of usable power.
  • The supercomputer is intended to calculate all the possible names of God. After which the purpose of the universe is ended, and God can sort of wind things up.

    As the Mayans predicted.

"Yeah, but you're taking the universe out of context."