10 Types of Computers

An employee of the German Climate Computing Center (DKRZ, or Deutsches Klimarechenzentrum) stands at the MistralÓ supercomputer on June 7, 2017, in Hamburg, Germany. This supercomputer crunches data for climate and Earth system modeling. Morris MacMatzen/Getty Images

This type of computer usually costs hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars. Although some supercomputers are single computer systems, most are composed of multiple high performance computers working in parallel as a single system. The best known supercomputers are built by Cray Supercomputers.

Supercomputers are different from mainframes. Both types of computers wield incredible computing power for Earth's most intense industrial and scientific calculations. Mainframes are generally tweaked to provide the ultimate in data reliability.

Supercomputers, on the other hand, are the Formula 1 race cars of the computer world, built for breakneck processing speed, so that companies can hurtle through calculations that might take other systems days, weeks, or even months to complete. They're often found at places like atomic research centers, spy agencies, scientific institutes, or weather forecasting stations, where speed is of vital concern. For example, the United States' National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which has some of the world's most advanced weather forecasting capabilities, uses some of the world's fastest computers — capable of more than 8 quadrillion calculations per second [sources: Hardawar, NOAA].

That kind of heart-stopping computer power comes at an equally heart-stopping price. The U.S. Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Summit supercomputer, for example, cost $200 million. It is the first supercomputer built to handle AI applications [source: Wolfson].

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