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Supercomputers Take a Cue From Microwave Ovens

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (12/01/11) Linda Vu

┬áTo develop more efficient supercomputers, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) researchers are studying consumer electronics such as microwave ovens, cameras, and cell phones, in which chips, batteries, and software are optimized to the device’s application. The co-design approach makes scientists and computer engineers a part of the supercomputer design process, so that systems are purpose-built for a scientific application from the bottom up. “Co-design allows us to design computers to answer specific questions, rather than limit our questions by available machines,” says LBNL’s Michael Wehner. The researchers recently published a paper arguing that the scientific supercomputing community should follow consumer electronics by starting with an application and using that as a metric for successful hardware and software design. “Because the ultimate goal of the embedded market is to maximize battery life, these technologies have always been driven by maximizing performance-per-watt and minimizing cost,” says LBNL’s John Shalf. He notes that co-designed supercomputers will be less general purpose than typical supercomputers, but he says that much of what is included in modern supercomputers is of little use to scientific computing.

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