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What is a Supercomputer?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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A supercomputer is a computer that performs at a rate of speed far above that of other computers. Given the constantly changing world of computing, it should come as no surprise to learn that most of these machines bear their superlative titles for a few years, at best. Computer programmers are fond of saying that today's supercomputer will become tomorrow's computer; the computers that most average user own today are probably more powerful than most historic supercomputers, for example.

The term was coined in 1929 by the New York World to refer to tabulators manufactured by IBM. To modern computer users, these tabulators would probably appear awkward, slow, and cumbersome to use, but at the time, they represented the cutting edge of technology. This continues to be true of supercomputers today, which harness immense processing power so that they are incredibly fast, sophisticated, and powerful.

The primary use for these computers is in scientific computing, which requires high-powered machines to perform complex calculations. Scientific organizations like the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) boast computers the size of rooms for the purpose of performing calculations, rendering complex formulas, and performing other tasks which require a formidable amount of computer power. Some machines have also been designed for very specific functions, like cracking codes and playing chess; Deep Blue is a famous chess-playing supercomputer.

In many cases, a supercomputer is custom-assembled, using elements from a range of computer manufacturers and tailored for its intended use. Most run on a Linux® or UNIX® operating system, as these operating systems are extremely flexible, stable, and efficient. They typically have multiple processors and a variety of other technological tricks to ensure that they run smoothly.

One of the biggest concerns with running such a powerful machine is cooling. As one might imagine, these computers get extremely hot as they run, requiring complex cooling systems to ensure that no part fails. Many of these cooling systems take advantage of liquid gases, which can get extremely cold. Another issue is the speed at which information can be transferred or written to a storage device, as the speed of data transfer will limit the computer's performance.

EasyTechJunkie is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a EasyTechJunkie researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon180870 — On May 27, 2011

A monitor could be input or output. Nowadays, it could be input in the form of touch screen.

@anon55391: to make it easier to understand. input is when you do something to get something (output) like talking in the microphone (input) to produce sound in the speakers(output) typing in the keyboard(input) where you see the result in the monitor(output). it really depends on the function of the device.

another example is you scan the pictures through a scanner (input) to view in the monitor(output) or print it using the printer (output).

By anon122740 — On Oct 29, 2010

China has built the world's fastest super computer: "Tianhe-1A." It has 1.4 times the horsepower of the current top computer "Cray Jaguar", which is at a national laboratory in Tennessee, US. And, it is 30 percent faster than the US super computer.

By anon75230 — On Apr 06, 2010

the keyboard is the input device and the monitor is the output device.

By anon61209 — On Jan 19, 2010

input means that gives instructions by us i.e., keyboard, mouse, scanner, etc.

output means that we get results, like listening to music, monitor that displays our inputs, etc.

By anon55391 — On Dec 07, 2009

tell me all about computer input and output devices.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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