[Beowulf] Supercomputers - iPad versus Cray

Lux, Jim (337C) james.p.lux at jpl.nasa.gov
Thu Mar 8 06:37:38 PST 2012

What would be interesting is to know what is the value not the cost of a FLOP?

I tend to look at computational horsepower in the tool sense.  If my job is cutting wood, a chainsaw lets me cut a lot more wood than I could with a hand saw.  Since there's some value in a unit of wood cutting, one could come up with a chainsaw value in cords cut.

Likewise, we tend to evaluate computing solutions in terms of "how much more work can an engineer get done using the computation, than some alternative" (leaving aside the delightful negative productivity from Angry Birds on an iPad, but gosh it's great on a long plane flight)

There's stories about nuclear reaction dynamics computations using Electric Accounting Machinery (EAM): tabulators, sorters, etc, which was then replaced by early computers.  And the EAM equipment replaced rooms of computers (the living breathing kind with rows of Marchand calculators).  SO there's some data there to compare with.

But I think that simplifying it to instruction counts (valid for EAM vs room of calculators) doesn't account for "change in way of solving problem"

Back in the day, people designed antennas by empiricism and some analytic approximations.  But now, there are FEM codes, and the analytic forms are used more to validate that test cases run correctly on the FEM, and for "quick and dirty" estimates.

Likewise, structural design trades many simple calculations in a FEM code for longer form analytical approaches, and the ability to do the FEM enables the design of structures that are MUCH more complex.

What is the "value" of being able to do a more complex structure? Or design optics that aren't simple spherical and cylinder sections?

From: "Hearns, John" <john.hearns at mclaren.com<mailto:john.hearns at mclaren.com>>
Date: Thu, 8 Mar 2012 05:43:10 -0800
To: "beowulf at beowulf.org<mailto:beowulf at beowulf.org>" <beowulf at beowulf.org<mailto:beowulf at beowulf.org>>
Subject: [Beowulf] Supercomputers - iPad versus Cray


A rather nice Register article on costs for supercomputers, adjusted to 2010  dollars,
And a rather interesting cost per megaflop table on the second page.

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