Japan builds world’s most powerful supercomputer

A Japanese computer has taken first place on the Top 500 supercomputer list, ending China’s reign at the top after just six months. At 8.16 petaflops, the K computer is more powerful than the next five systems combined.

The K computer’s performance was measured using 68,544 SPARC64 VIIIfx CPUs each with eight cores, for a total of 548,352 cores, almost twice as many as any other system on the Top500 list. The computer is still under construction, and when it enters service in November 2012 will have more than 80,000 SPARC64 VIIIfx CPUs according to its manufacturer, Fujitsu.

Japan’s ascension to the top means that the Chinese Tianhe-1A supercomputer, which took the number 1 position in November last year, is now in second spot with its 2.57 petaflops. But China continues to grow the number of systems it has on the list, up from 42 to 62 systems. The change at the top also means that Jaguar, built for the US Department of Energy (DOE), is bumped down to third place.

The latest iteration of the bi-annual list was released Monday at the 2011 International Supercomputing Conference.

Unlike other recent supercomputers, the K computer doesn’t use graphics processors or other accelerators. It uses the most power, but is also one of the most energy efficient systems on the list, according to Top500.org. The supercomputer is installed at the RIKEN Advanced Institute for Computational Science (AICS) in Kobe. When complete, it is intended to run at over 10 petaflops.

This is the first time Japan has had the most powerful supercomputer since the country’s Earth Simulator was surpassed by the DOE’s IBM BlueGene/L and by Nasa’s Columbia in November 2004.

For the first time, all of the top 10 systems achieved performance over 1 petaflop, although they are the only systems on the list that reach that level. The US has five systems in the top 10, Japan and China have two each and France has one.

The DOE’s Roadrunner, the first system to break the petaflop barrier in June 2008, is now in tenth place. The performance of computers on the list is measured using the Linpack benchmark, a set of routines that solve linear equations.

The last system on the new list was at position 262 six months ago, meaning almost 48 percent of the list has changed in the last six months, and the turnover rate has steadily increased during the last few lists, according to Top500.org which publishes the list. While performance at the top is advancing by leaps and bounds, movements lower down the list are more modest. The entry point for the top 100 increased to 88.92 teraflops from 75.76 teraflops six months ago.

IBM is the dominant manufacturer on the list with 213 systems in the Top 500, compared to HP with 153.

Intel continues to provide the processors for a majority of the systems on list, followed by AMD and IBM. Intel’s Westmere processors are now used by 178 systems, up from 56 systems 6 months ago.

The Top 500 list is compiled by Hans Meuer of the University of Mannheim, Erich Strohmaier and Horst Simon of NERSC/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Jack Dongarra of the University of Tennessee.


The Billabong Big Wave Flotation Wetsuit Is a Game Changer


Earlier this week Billabong unveiled an innovative survival wetsuit. Complete with a self-inflating bladder, it’s a pretty bold new step forward in surfwear. The idea is the brainchild of Shane Dorian — one of the best big wave surfer in the world — who almost drowned under a turbulent swell at the Maverick’s, a notorious cold-water break near San Francisco. Billabong’s new wetsuit works in a similar fashion to the airbags used backcountry skiing avalanche survival backpacks; a surfer in troubled waters pulls a ripcord, causing a flotation bladder in the suit to immediately inflate. The suit then acts as a life vest and quickly pulls the surfer to safety at the surface of the water. So… How did this fancy new device work for Dorian?


via a Billabong press release:


The most public demonstration of the Billabong V1 suit occurred on March 15 of this year when Dorian and a small group of top big wave surfers paddled into record-breaking waves at Jaws on the island of Maui in Hawaii. Formerly considered a spot so difficult to ride that a jet ski tow-in assist was necessary, Dorian caught an amazing 57-foot wave on that day, winning both the Monster Paddle and Monster Tube categories of the 2011 Billabong XXL Global Big Wave Awards. When Dorian pulled into the biggest tube of all time and failed to come out, he was pounded by the wave and driven deep underwater, where he deployed the Billabong V1 inflation mechanism. He rocketed to the surface and climbed back onto his surfboard, paddling off to the channel with a conspicuous hump on his back, clearly visible to the numerous photographers on hand.

Remote-Controlled Superhero [Video]

Just imagine, one evening, as you’re walking around your neighborhood, you see this thing zipping past you in the sky:

Mobile phones could be charged by the power of speech

For mobile phone users, a flat battery or a lost charger are among the frustrations of modern life.

Now new research promises a way to recharge phones using nothing but the power of the human voice.

Electrical engineers have developed a new technique for turning sound into electricity, allowing a mobile to be powered up while its user holds a conversation.

The technology would also be able to harness background noise and even music to charge a phone while it is not in use.

However, there could be a downside to the innovation, if it gives people a new reason to shout into their phones as they attempt to squeeze in every extra bit of power they can.

Plans for a 4,000mph underwater train from New York to London

“Vacuum Tube Train: A 4,000-mph magnetically levitated train could allow you to have lunch in Manhattan and still get to London in time for the theater, despite the 5-hour time difference. It’s not impossible: Norway has studied neutrally buoyant tunnels (concluding that they’re feasible, though expensive), and Shanghai is running maglev trains to its airport. But supersonic speeds require another critical step: eliminating the air—and therefore air friction—from the train’s path. A vacuum would also save the tunnel from the destructive effects of a sonic boom, which, unchecked, could potentially rip the tunnel apart.” “As envisioned by Frankel and Frank Davidson, a former MIT researcher and early member of the first formal English Channel Tunnel study group, sections of neutrally buoyant tunnel submerged 150 to 300 feet beneath the surface of the Atlantic, then anchored to the seafloor–thereby avoiding the high pressures of the deep ocean. Then air would be pumped out, creating a vacuum, and alternating magnetic pulses would propel a magnetically levitated train capable of speeds up to 4,000 mph across the pond in an hour. As Frankel and Davidson say, it’s doable. “We lay pipes and cables across the ocean every day,” says Frankel. “The Norwegians recently investigated submerged, floating tunnels for crossing their deep fjords, and were only held back by the costs.”

$25 Bare-Bones PC That Fits On Your Keychain

There are a number of barebones/mass-market low-cost devices out there, many of them aimed at the huge developing world market, hoping to outfit people with basic PC functionality for as little cost as possible. The OLPC is among the most famous, but perhaps the most luxurious: with a cutting-edge screen, built-in keyboard and networking, and so on, it has perhaps aimed too high, resulting in (as we’ve seen) increasing price and limited uptake. India’s “$35″ tablet comes to mind as well.

David Braben, perhaps best known for developing the revolutionary Elite, is now leading a foundation called Raspberry Pi to mass produce this ultra-minimal PC and distribute it where even an OLPC is too much. Their device is as bare-bones as it gets, and they’re hoping to sell it for $25.

It’s about the size of a USB drive, and comprises a 700MHz ARM11 processor, 128MB of RAM, and ports for video, removable media, and USB 2.0. That’s all! There’s a “general-purpose” I/O slot that can be used to attach peripherals like a camera or wireless module, but that’s really all there is to it. And of course, that’s pretty much all you need to run a modern computer OS.

With a 16GB SD card, a USB hub connecting a mouse and keyboard, and any monitor that connects to composite or HDMI, you’ve got a fully functional PC that probably outperforms desktops from a few years back. It’ll run what you put on it, as long as it’s ARM-compatible — right now it’s shown running Ubuntu 9, but there are a number of options, all offering complete modern web browsing, office tools, printing, maps, and all the other usual suspects.

I suspect this thing is much less junkware than many other low-cost devices, many of which are simply turning around cheap components for a low-margin product. This thing could be bought in bulk and easily distributed, powering internet cafes and schools in impoverished areas, and introducing them to the joys of Linux. Every kid could carry their entire computer around with them on an SD card. Doesn’t that sound right? Personally, I like it better than the OLPC approach, admirable as it is.

The Raspberry Pi team still has to prove it can produce the device for the price they’ve quoted — a task that has choked bigger operations than theirs. But despite being a custom device and PCB, it doesn’t seem unlikely that these off-the-shelf components (plus perhaps a shell) could be gotten for under that.

If you’d like to know more, head over to Raspberry Pi’s similarly bare-bones website, or check out this article at the BBC, where there is a video of Braben showing off the device and explaining his motivation for it.

Jet-Propelled Surfboard

Handy Man The bodies of WaveJet boards are designed by Steve Walden, an originator of the modern longboard. Jeff Harris

Surfers want to ride waves, not tire out while paddling to them. That’s where the WaveJet comes in. Two battery-powered jets tucked into the shortboard’s three-inch shell provide 20 pounds of thrust to propel riders at 12 mph—three times the average paddling speed.

Unlike a Jet Ski’s circular exhaust nozzles, the oblong ones on the WaveJet save space and add power. By forcing water through smaller, flatter openings, the jets produce a higher-pressure stream. Riders turn the jets on and off with a bracelet remote control that also acts as a kill switch if they wipe out. Because the battery-and-jet module sits just ahead of the fins, where a standing surfer’s weight rests, the 15 pounds it adds only minimally affects the board’s balance and performance.

Although the WaveJet’s power could realistically help pro surfers shred harder, its true purpose is to make water sports less frustrating for amateurs. The board’s propulsion system is currently built into 11 surfboard models, including paddle- and lifeguard boards, and will soon be installed in bodyboards, kayaks and kiteboards as well.

Dimensions: 7.1 ft. x 21 in. x 3.125 in.
Weight: 32 lbs.
Run Time: 39 min.
Price: $4,500 (est.)
More Info: WaveJet