A government computer in New Mexico is the first supercomputer to perform at one petaflop (one thousand trillion calculations per second). Designed and built by IBM, the Roadrunner (named after the New Mexico state bird) is a hybrid machine, the world's first, that uses both traditional computer chips and the Cell Broadband Engine. The cell processor was originally designed for video game consoles such as the Sony Playstation 3.
Roadrunner will be used primarily to ensure the safety and reliability of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile. It will also do research into astronomy, energy, human genome science and climate change.
Located at the Los Alamos National Laboratory of the Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration, the new computer is twice as fast as IBM Blue Gene system at Lawrence Livermore National Lab, which was until now the fastest computer in the world. Despite its size (occupying 6,000 square feet and weighing 500,000 lbs.) Roadrunner is relatively energy efficient. It delivers world-leading efficiency – 376 million calculations per watt. IBM expects Roadrunner to place among the top energy-efficient systems on the official "Green 500" list of supercomputers due later this month.
Roadrunner's petaflop performance is roughly equivalent to the combined computing power of 100,000 of today's fastest laptop computers. That's a stack of laptops 1.5 miles high. It would take the entire population of the earth -- about 6 billion people – each working a handheld calculator at the rate of one second per calculation, more than 46 years to do what Roadrunner can do in one day.