Part of the Microprocessors glossary:

A petaflop is a measure of a computer's processing speed and can be expressed as:

  • A quadrillion (thousand trillion) floating point operations per second (FLOPS)
  • A thousand teraflops
  • 10 to the 15th power FLOPS
  • 2 to the 50th power FLOPS

In June, 2008, IBM's Roadrunner supercomputer was the first to break what has been called "the petaflop barrier." In November 2008, when the annual rankings of the Top 500 supercomputers were released, there were two computers to do so. At 1.105 petaflops, Roadrunner retained its top place from the previous list, ahead of Cray's Jaguar, which ran at 1.059 petaflops.

Breaking the petaflop barrier is expected to have profound and far-reaching effects on the future of science. According to Thomas Zacharia, head of computer science at Cray's Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, "The new capability allows you to do fundamentally new physics and tackle new problems. And it will accelerate the transition from basic research to applied technology."

Petaflop computing will enable much more accurate modeling of complex systems. Applications are expected to include real-time nuclear magnetic resonance imaging during surgery, computer-based drug design, astrophysical simulation, the modeling of environmental pollution, and the study of long-term climate changes.

This was last updated in November 2008
Contributor(s): Jeremy Weiss
Posted by: Margaret Rouse

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