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All Systems Go For Highest Altitude Supercomputer

Soulskill posted about 2 years ago | from the going-for-the-high-score dept.

Space 36

An anonymous reader writes "One of the most powerful supercomputers in the world has now been fully installed and tested at its remote, high altitude site in the Andes of northern Chile. It's a critical part of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), the most elaborate ground-based astronomical telescope in history. The special-purpose ALMA correlator has over 134 million processors and performs up to 17 quadrillion operations per second, a speed comparable to the fastest general-purpose supercomputer in operation today."

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and (3, Funny)

ozduo (2043408) | about 2 years ago | (#42364039)

was it running windows 8 ?

Re:and (3, Funny)

earlzdotnet (2788729) | about 2 years ago | (#42364127)

Better question: Why doesn't it have a touch screen? A computer isn't "modern" without a touch screen

Re:and (2)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about 2 years ago | (#42364557)

Better question: Why doesn't it have a touch screen? A computer isn't "modern" without a touch screen

WTF is wrong with you?

Everybody knows touchscreens don't want to be vertical!

Re:and (1)

davester666 (731373) | about 2 years ago | (#42367939)

And you've got to be high to want to use one.

Re:and (1)

Sparticus789 (2625955) | about 2 years ago | (#42364133)

No, because it would be a shame to have a blue screen of death rendered in .00001 ms

Re:and (1)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about 2 years ago | (#42364577)

Speaking of which, have you seen the new BSOD? [wikimedia.org]

WTF, Ballmer?

Re:and (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42373197)

That is a great example to put in the dictionary under "dumbed down"

Re:and (1)

ryanmcdonough (2430374) | about 2 years ago | (#42364165)

Everyone knows it's running XP, took a while to sort out the license though.

Re:and (1)

G3ckoG33k (647276) | about 2 years ago | (#42369247)

was it running windows 8 ?

"was it running windows 8 ?"

Bad question. You are not allowed to defile people with disabilities, in most countries.

For me, running Wndows 8 equates you have some retardation. This is my understanding of it.

I may be wrong, but no-one has ever contested that with any medical proof.

Put it to use (2)

Sparticus789 (2625955) | about 2 years ago | (#42364131)

It's so fast, we could point it at Tau Ceti and count all the Vulcan pointy ears in 8.56 seconds!

Cosmic Rays (2)

Ragzouken (943900) | about 2 years ago | (#42364135)

How does that bode for cosmic rays?

Re:Cosmic Rays (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42365377)

Good question. A supercomputer at LANL (2150 meters) was purchased without SECDED memory to save money. Reliability was a problem since a cosmic ray can flip a bit. Even a special-purpose device will have storage and will be more vulnerable at that altitude. Maybe the designers are already familiar with the issues and have compensated.

Re:Cosmic Rays (1)

Blaskowicz (634489) | about 2 years ago | (#42372711)

ECC memory should address concerns about cosmic rays well enough, and is bog down standard.

Re:Cosmic Rays (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42366255)

It's unlikely to make much difference. You can see the variation in cosmic ray flux with altitude here: http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/astro/cosmic.html
The difference between 5 km and sea level isn't that much.

Almost (1)

ryanmcdonough (2430374) | about 2 years ago | (#42364157)

Almost as good as my raspberry pi.

Re:Almost (1)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about 2 years ago | (#42364593)

Almost as good as my Beowulf cluster of raspberry pis.

Much better :)

Name that hardware (2)

timeOday (582209) | about 2 years ago | (#42364267)

Any of you familiar enough with this kind of thing to identify what sort of hardware [eso.org] they used? This seems like a really neat application of special-purpose hardware. Please, no complaining about how bad it would probably score on Linpack - this is a purpose-built computer for a specific job. Custom boards are so seldom justified these days, I envy the engineers who got to do this.

Re:Name that hardware (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42364443)


Bit of details about it. The comment that this is as fast as a general purpose supercomputer is totally out of context. This is doing fast sums and correlations (DSP) using FPGA technology. When a general purpose system is measured in the PetaFlops (ie: Linpack) it is doing much more sophisticated calculations and this really isn't comparing apples to apples at all. A lot of hyperbole in the comment about "performance." No question this is a spectacular piece of engineering and the custom board & FPGA work is very cool, but the LHC has filters and realtime compute facilities that are orders of magnitude more sophisticated than this. (I'm not putting this down, just trying to relate it to something else out there).

Re:Name that hardware (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42392667)

The DSP technology is nice, but it could be argued that this is not actually a computer -- just a very fast sound card.

You know what those observers will use it for .... (0, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42364397)

All of that computer power, access to the internet..... remote location....
You know what this will be used for right?
Giant Porn Server? (GPS)

Supplementary O2 (2)

Dan East (318230) | about 2 years ago | (#42364403)

I noticed in the pictures that the techs have to wear O2 backpacks with nasal cannulas because the air is so thin at that altitude. I wonder how that affects hardware cooling, since the air is less dense and thus cannot remove as much heat from the hardware.

RTFA (4, Informative)

msauve (701917) | about 2 years ago | (#42364483)

"At 5000 metres, the air is thin, so twice the normal airflow is necessary to cool the machine, which draws some 140 kilowatts of power."

Re:RTFA (1)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about 2 years ago | (#42364683)

I wonder, do you think it would be any more efficient if they somehow compressed the cooling airflow? I would think utilizing the Venturi effect [wikipedia.org] , they could increase the incoming air velocity with minimal power usage.

Re:RTFA (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42364767)

They could try to take advantage of these mini tornadoes [slashdot.org] for both the airflow and the energy that it creates. Talk about serendipity!

Re:RTFA (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42365409)

Compression heats up the air.

Re:RTFA (1)

dargaud (518470) | about 2 years ago | (#42370649)

Having run computer systems for a year in Antarctica [gdargaud.net] at over 10000ft altitude, I wish them well... I've had lots of problems with:
  • difficulty in cooling systems: the thinner and dryer air means than there's less evacuation of heat. Meaning you need to run your fans at higher speed, meaning they don't last long. I exhausted all my spares halfway through. Your disks and CPUs run at higher temps, which is particularly hard on the disks.
  • problems with hard drives which I have no proof but wonder if the head floating on air is closer to the surface, inducing damage to the surface. I never understood why hard drives (even the latest 4Tb which I hold in my hand right now) have a 'do not cover' hole to let air in. Why don't they seal them ?!? I lost all my spare drives.
  • problems with thermal fluctuations: power goes out, temperature drops to -40 in an hour, power comes back, PC tries to boot automatically, hard drive with deformed platters screams in pain...

Ray Kurzweil was right... (2)

msauve (701917) | about 2 years ago | (#42364421)

Computers are getting more like people. Now they're even getting high.

Re:Ray Kurzweil was right... (3, Funny)

VortexCortex (1117377) | about 2 years ago | (#42364915)

Why did you climb the mountain oh Super Computer?
Because I can, man... Well, that and latency is a bitch, or I'd have telecommuted to work.

cosmic rays (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42364629)

It could be interesting, as a side benefit, if this helps provide more data on single event upsets due to the higher influx of cosmic rays.


How about sky or space? (1)

Vegan Pagan (251984) | about 2 years ago | (#42365255)

Do any space probes carry what qualifies as a supercomputer? Those are rather higher in altitude than any mountaintop.

Re:How about sky or space? (1)

FatLittleMonkey (1341387) | about 2 years ago | (#42368521)

Computers on space probes barely qualify as computers, by modern standards. They're limited to slow old hardware that has been proven against radiation, and can run at achingly low power levels. Raspberry-Pi is probably faster.

If someone could come up with a modern-speed chip that was equally radiation proof, it would revolutionise space-probes and rovers.

Re:How about sky or space? (1)

iggymanz (596061) | about 2 years ago | (#42375167)

"barely qualify". nonsense, the definition of a computer hasn't changed. Computers of 70 years ago are still computers. The four bit microprocessor Intel made that showed up in the first generation of electronic calculators is still a computer. In fact, the analog computer circuits of 80 years ago are still computers, taking information input, transforming it, and giving an information output.

Re:How about sky or space? (1)

FatLittleMonkey (1341387) | about 2 years ago | (#42375485)

Yes, well done you for missing the point.

Re:How about sky or space? (1)

defcon-11 (2181232) | about 2 years ago | (#42372797)

Space probes run on a couple of lightbulbs worth of power for flight control, communications, instruments and sometimes heat source combined. For example, Curiosity, the newest Mars rover runs on 125 watts of usable power.

Just wondering (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42367331)

I wonder why they didn't just run fiber down the mountain to a more pleasant site.

9 billion names of god. (1)

FatLittleMonkey (1341387) | about 2 years ago | (#42368503)

The supercomputer is intended to calculate all the possible names of God. After which the purpose of the universe is ended, and God can sort of wind things up.

As the Mayans predicted.

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