Most laptops best 1980's fastest: TechRepublic's John Sheesley takes you on a walk down memory lane when the phrase "supercomputer" didn't conjure up images of LANL's Roadrunner* Cell/B.E.-Opteron hybrid but instead made you think Cray. He points out that the laptop many of you are using right now is faster than the 1980s version of a supercomputer like the Cray Y-MP -- up to eight 32-bit processors that ran a max 333MFLOPS for a combined sustained speed of over 2GFLOPS. It sped along at 167Mhz and could handle both 24-bit and 32-bit instructions. (Remember, the best in desktop at the time was the 32-bit 486DX/2 66 with an internal clock rate of 66Mhz.)
Sheesley's got another post on How Star Trek influenced the development of the curved tower design of the Cray supercomputers.
How do we reach 1 exaFLOPS?
Practice, practice, practice?: In International Science Grid This Week, David Anderson, founder of the popular volunteer computing site Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing (BOINC), discusses how to best the current record of 1PFLOPS (earned by distributed efforts like BOINC and Folding@home and the solitary LANL Roadrunner*). Anderson notes that simple scaling current efforts may be hampered by steep power-consumption and heat-dissipation curves; his suggestion to reach the next height is a combination of volunteer computing and using graphics processing units (GPUs). Although the specific-task-oriented nature of GPUs made reprogramming them for compute-intensive scientific applications difficult, a newer trend in GPUs is for them to be more general-purpose (even delivering up the coveted double-precision floating-point math). Anderson mentions NVIDIA's CUDA system that allows GPUs to be programmed in C and makes it easier to develop and port scientific apps to GPUs.
(*Please see the disclaimer on the use of the LANL Roadrunner name.)