As seemingly all of America's media focused on the threat posed by Hurricane Sandy, the U.S. Department of Energy quietly flipped the switch on "Titan," the world's fastest supercomputer, giving giving engineers, medical and energy researchers and climate scientists unparalleled new processing power to tackle the globe's toughest challenges.

Titan isn't actually new: it's an upgraded supercomputer based on a system called "Jaguar" at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Titan, which will be used for all sorts of data-intensive scientific research, is made up of 299,008 blazing fast 16-core AMD Opteron processors and 18,688 Nvidia Tesla K20 graphics processing units.

"Titan will allow scientists to simulate physical systems more realistically and in far greater detail," James Hack, director of the National Center for Computational Sciences, explained in a media advisory. "The improvements in simulation fidelity will accelerate progress in a wide range of research areas such as alternative energy and energy efficiency, the identification and development of novel and useful materials and the opportunity for more advanced climate projections."

The previous supercomputer to achieve world's fastest status, IBM's "Sequoia," clocked in over 16.32 petaflops. Running at full capacity, the DOE says that Titan's computing power tops out around 20 petaflops -- that's 20,000 trillion calculations per second. By comparison, researchers at IBM estimate that the human brain is capable of about 36.8 petaflops.

Despite its gobsmacking level of processing power, Titan still isn't done: CNN reported that the DOE hopes to upgrade the supercomputer even further, scaling it up to encompass more than 200 petaflops by 2016.


Photo: AFP.