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What is a Teraflop?

By Derek Schauland
Updated May 16, 2024
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A teraflop is a computing term used to define the number of floating point operations a computer processor can perform per second. Used to measure computing performance, floating-point operations per second or FLOPS determine how many floating point mathematical operations can be handled by a computer's processor. The largest computers in the world use chips that work in Teraflops, trillions of operations per second. The teraflop computers are typically found in research facilities both educational and military.

While the number of FLOPS a computer can handle is only part of the equation in determining the computer speed and things like disk input/output (i/o) and memory usage can play an important role, the improvement in the number of flops and advancements in processing power and technology certainly keep things interesting.

In May of 2008, the United States military engineered a super computer that could perform one quadrillion calculations per second. It is as of this writing the only known computer capable of petaflop processing speeds.

With the research being done by the military and educational institutions around the country, all types of computer chips can benefit from this research. For example, graphics chips have especially come a long way and process many more FLOPS than the typical CPU.

In terms of the power of a personal computer, the more calculations per second a system can handle, the more operations the user of that system can perform. There will be other limitations, the Operating system size and hardware usage will affect performance and the amount of applications being used at one time will affect performance, but advances in chip performance showcased in the super computers of today will definitely affect the desktop PCs being released in the future.

To provide an idea of how fast a teraflop microchip operates, an average calculator, which performs a single operation, has a chip speed of about 10 Flops. This is fast enough for the human interacting with the calculator to see its operation as instantaneous. It is almost as if a teraflop would have a calculation finished for 2.2 + 2.3 before the operator even realized the equals key had been pressed.

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Discussion Comments

By anon956823 — On Jun 16, 2014

To those naysayers, I say: Stop playing halo, stop searching the internet, stop using computers, tablets or cellphones. Go back even as far as two decades ago and what do you get? Windows 95 with 512 kb of ram and a 500MB hard drive, Why? because no one ever imagined a time when programs would require 50 times the space for a single program.

As long as there is a demand, speed and storage will continue to expand. Therefore just because you can't imagine it doesn't mean it won't happen. Case in point: 6 TB hard disk drives have dropped 50 percent in price in as little as three months.

By anon338793 — On Jun 17, 2013

Can't think of anything that could benefit from it? How about Artificial Intelligence?

By anon321237 — On Feb 21, 2013

What is the speed of Dimitri's Internet?

By NathanG — On Jul 03, 2011

@allenJo - I think supercomputers will eventually come to the desktop. It’s not just the Hollywood studios who need that power; it is engineers and physicists as well. I can certainly think of things like particle accelerators or nuclear engineers who would benefit from this type of technology.

Let’s not forget, as well, that today’s desktop computers were yesterday’s supercomputers. Think of the very old computers that had vacuum tubes as an example. Today's laptops put those computers to shame, and they were big achievements in their day.

Technology accelerates at breakneck speeds, as we all know by Moore’s Law, and so I think it’s only a matter of time before your desktop PC will be doing teraflop operations. You may not need that power, of course; that’s another story.

By allenJo — On Jul 03, 2011

I don’t believe that there will ever be a need to see this kind of supercomputing power brought to the desktop PC. I can’t think of a single application that would benefit from it, unless you’re doing the kind of advanced 3D graphics stuff that the folks in Hollywood special effects studios do for the blockbuster films.

The kind of realities and virtual worlds they create are amazing. I suppose they could use computers with more and more processing speeds. From what I understand, however, they are doing fine with current technology; sometimes they string together a bunch of computers to create parallel processing, and this delivers the raw power that they need for their special effects applications.

Supercomputing will always be the domain of security and defense applications, in my opinion.

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