World's Most Efficient HPC, QPACE Stands at the Top of the Green500 list

German research computer was dubbed the most efficient high-performance computer in the world

The Quantum Chromodynamics Parallel Computing on the Cell (QPACE) is a German research supercomputer used in elementary particle physics simulations, mostly aimed at research in the area of quantum chromodynamics (QCD, which describes, for instance, how protons are composed of quarks and gluons). The system is a four-rack conglomerate capable of 100 trillion floating point operations per second (in other words, 100 TeraFlops) based in Research Center Julich and at the University of Wuppertal. Yesterday, at the 2009 Supercomputing Conference in Portland, Oregon (USA), the Top500 list placed it at the very top of energy-efficient HPCs.

Each installation of the QPACE is capable of a maximum performance of 100TeraFlops. The system is powered by an IBM PowerXCell 8i processor, which is an enhanced version of the Cell/B.E. Unit originally developed by Sony, Toshiba and IBM for the Sony PlayStation 3. It has nine cores and can run a very large amount of simultaneous high-speed calculations. QPACE uses FPGAs (Field Programmable Gate Arrays) to connect processors through a network of programmable units, creating a scalable and efficient computing environment. This scalability hypothetically allows for increasing performance up to one quadrillion operations per second (the PetaFlop scale).

"The development of energy-efficient supercomputers for all application areas is a vital future challenge and a focal point of Jülich's research activities" said Prof. Dr. Dr. Thomas Lippert, director of the Julich Supercomputing Center and professor for computational theoretical physics at the University of Wuppertal.

Low power usage is provided by the aforementioned network of programmable units and the QPACE's special cooling system. “The node cards are packed into thermal boxes made of aluminum. These boxes act as a single big heat sink conducting the heat from the internal components to the surface. The thermal box is then connected to a cold plate. Water is pumped through channels inside the cold plate which moves the heat out of the system” says an excerpt from research paper on the QPACE, which details the cooling mechanism.

The QPACE is on top of the Green500 list and holds 110th place on the TOP500 list. The maintenance costs of the supercomputer are supported by the DFG, as well as the states of Bavaria and North Rhine Westphalia (approximately three million Euros), whereas the development costs are divided between the consortium and IBM. The consortium is led by the University of Regensburg and the research centers DESY and Julich, with additional members including the University of Wuppertal, the University of Ferrara (Italy), the University of Milan-Bicocca (Italy), plus Eurotech, Knurr, Zollner and Xilinx.

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