Supercomputer in race for top spot

U. FLORIDA (US) — A supercomputer named Novo-G is challenging one in China for the honor of being called the world’s fastest and can already perform some science applications more quickly and more efficiently.

In November, the TOP500 list of the world’s most powerful supercomputers named the Chinese Tianhe-1A system at the National Computer Center in Tainjin, China as No. 1, as noted by President Barack Obama in his State of the Union address.

But the list does not include reconfigurable supercomputers such as Novo-G, built and developed at the University of Florida, says Alan George, professor of electrical and computer engineering, and director of the National Science Foundation’s Center for High-Performance Reconfigurable Computing, known as CHREC.

“Novo-G is believed to be the most powerful reconfigurable machine on the planet and, for some applications, it is the most powerful computer of any kind on the planet,” George says.

“It is very difficult to accurately rank supercomputers because it depends upon what you want them to do,” George says, adding that the TOP500 list ranks supercomputers by their performance on a few basic routines in linear algebra using 64-bit, floating-point arithmetic.

But a significant number of the most important applications in the world don’t adhere to that standard, including a growing list of vital applications in health and life sciences, signal and image processing, financial science, and more under study with Novo-G.

Most of the world’s computers, from smart-phones to laptops to Tianhe-1A, feature microprocessors with fixed-logic hardware structures.  All software applications for these systems must conform to these fixed structures, which can lead to significant loss in speed and increase in energy consumption.

By contrast, reconfigurable computers can adapt to match the unique needs of each application, leading to faster speed and less wasted energy due to adaptive hardware customization.

Novo-G uses 192 reconfigurable processors and “can rival the speed of the world’s largest supercomputers at a tiny fraction of their cost, size, power, and cooling,” researchers note in a report in IEEE Computing in Science and Engineering magazine, and has applications for use in genome research, cancer diagnosis, plant science, and the ability to analyze large data sets.

Conventional supercomputers, some the size of a large building, can consume up to millions of watts of electrical power, generating massive amounts of heat—Novo-G is about the size of two home refrigerators and consumes less than 8,000 watts.

Later this year, researchers will double the reconfigurable capacity of Novo-G, requiring only a modest increase in size, power, and cooling, unlike upgrades with conventional supercomputers.

Some vital science applications that take months or years to run on a personal computer can run in minutes or hours on the Novo-G, says Herman Lam, electrical and computer engineering professor and co-investigator on Novo-G, such as applications for DNA sequence alignment. comprised of researchers from University of Florida, Brigham Young University,  George Washington University, and Virginia Tech.

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