November 29, 2010
Sugar cube-sized supercomps? Prototype Built; Massive Shrinking To Make Future Devices More Energy Efficient
IBM scientists have said that a pioneering research effort could shrink the world’s most powerful supercomputer processors to the size of a sugar cube.
The approach will see many computer processors stacked on top of one another, cooling them with water flowing between each one.
The aim is to reduce computers’ energy use, rather than just to shrink them. Some 2% of the world’s total energy is consumed by building and running computer equipment.
Bruno Michel said future computer costs would hinge on green credentials rather than speed.
Michel and his colleagues have already built a prototype to demonstrate the water-cooling principle. Called Aquasar, it occupies a rack larger than a refrigerator. IBM estimates that Aquasar is almost 50% more energy-efficient than the world’s leading supercomputers.
“In the past, computers were dominated by hardware costs – 50 years ago you could hold one transistor and it cost a dollar, or a franc,” the BBC quoted Michel as saying at IBM’s Zurich labs.
Now when the sums are done, he said, the cost of a transistor works out to 1/100th of the price of printing a single letter on a page.
The overwhelming cause of those energy costs is in cooling, because computing power generates heat as a side product.
“In the future, computers will be dominated by energy costs,” said Michel.
Until recently, the supercomputer at the top of that list could do about 770 million computational operations per second at a cost of one watt of power.
The Aquasar prototype clocked up nearly half again as much, at 1.1 billion operations. Now the task is to shrink it.