British Supercomputer Boasts Power Of 12,000 Desktops

Dennis Faas's picture

Britain's Chancellor -- or, finance secretary -- recently unveiled one of the largest and most powerful computers in Europe. HECToR (High-End Computing Terascale Resource) can handle 63 trillion calculations per second, the equivalent of 12,000 standard desktop computers. Its power is equal to every person on earth simultaneously carrying out 10,000 calculations in a second.

The $220 million machine is based in Edinburgh, Scotland and takes up 60 wardrobe-sized cabinets. It will be used for projects such as predicting climate change effects, projecting how quickly disease epidemics will spread, developing new medicines, and working out how ocean currents fluctuate.

Dr. David Henty, group manager at the center which houses HECToR, said many scientists still worked with pen and paper and manual experiments, but explained this only worked with projects of a physically manageable scale. "[The computer can] simulate things that are as small as a sub-atomic particle, through to things that are as big as the whole universe. It really can do whatever you want it to do." (Source:

Up to a thousand different groups of scientists will be able to use the machine. They'll have to apply for timeslots and have their projects approved by other scientists before getting access.

At the moment, the machine's speed of 63 teraflops (the computing term for a trillion calculations per second) is well short of the world's fastest and only makes number 17 on the 'speed list'. However, its creators plan to increase the speed to 250 teraflops next October, which would place it second in the world.

The top slot still belongs to Blue Gene/L, an American machine used for safety maintenance on nuclear weapons.  It runs at an astounding 478 teraflops. (Source:

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