Top 10 Supercomputers

Sequoia (United States)
Sequoia’s gray and orange color scheme may remind you of Halloween, but it’s the 96 racks of chips that should really command attention. © Bob Hirschfeld/LLNL

Sequoia was the top ranked supercomputer on the June 2012 TOP500 list, but dropped to No. 2 in November 2012, and now rests at No. 3. It's still no slouch, thanks to around 1.6 million processing cores that can crank out an incredible 17.2 petaflops of performance. Wondering just how incredible that is?

Well, if we look back less than a decade ago to 2008, IBM's Roadrunner made history (and grabbed the top slot) for cracking 1 petaflop, aka performing 1,000 trillion operations per second [source: IBM]. IBM said Roadrunner was equivalent to 100,000 of 2008's laptops in performance. And Sequoia is 17 times as fast! Sequoia is one of four computers on the November 2013 list running on the BlueGene/Q IBM design, a 16-core 1.6GHz chip. That's not an especially fast clock speed by today's standards, but with 96 racks of chips, the performance really adds up.

What's Sequoia doing with all that speed, anyway? Sequoia is 63 percent faster than the fourth fastest computer on the list, and IBM is putting Sequoia to work, of course. Like Vulcan, it operates at the U.S. Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration at the Livermore National Laboratory. The computer's doing important (and classified) work: One of its responsibilities is simulating nuclear explosions.