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The top 10 supercomputers in the world, 20 years ago

Jon Gold | July 15, 2015
The Top500 list from June 1995 shows just how far the possibilities of silicon have come in the past 20 years. Performance figures are listed in gigaflops, rather than the teraflops of today, meaning that, for example, the tenth-place entrant in this week’s newly released list is more than 84,513 times faster than its two-decades-ago equivalent.

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In 1995, the top-grossing film in the U.S. was Batman Forever. (Val Kilmer as Batman, Jim Carrey as the Riddler, Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face. Yeah.) The L.A. Rams were moving back to St. Louis, and Michael Jordan was moving back to the Bulls. Violence was rife in the Balkans. The O.J. trial happened.

It was a very different time, to be sure. But all that was nothing compared to how different the world of supercomputing was.

The Top500 list from June 1995 shows just how far the possibilities of silicon have come in the past 20 years. Performance figures are listed in gigaflops, rather than the teraflops of today, meaning that, for example, the 10th-place entrant in this week's newly released list is more than 84,513 times faster than its two-decades-ago equivalent.

Here's a quick run-down of the respective top 10 lists:

#10: 1995 Cray T3D-MC512-8, Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center, 50.8 GFLOP/S

        2015 Vulcan, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, 4,293,300 GFLOP/S

The Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center is still an active facility, though none of its three named systems Sherlock, Blacklight and Anton appear on the latest Top500 list. The last time it was there was 2006, with a machine dubbed Big Ben placing 256th. (The PSC's AlphaServer SC45 took second place in 2001 with a speed of 7,266 gigaflops.)

#9: 1995 Cray T3D-MC512-8, Los Alamos National Laboratory, 50.8 GFLOP/S

     2015 JUQUEEN, Forschungzentrum Juelich, 5,008,900 GFLOP/S

Yes, it's the same machine twice, which demonstrates that supercomputers were less likely to be bespoke systems filling giant rooms of their own, and more likely to be something you just bought from Cray or Intel. JUQUEEN is more than 98,600 times as powerful as the old T3D-MC512-8, a 512-core device that appears to have been more or less contained to a pair of big cabinets.

#8: 1995 Thinking Machines CM-5/896, Minnesota Supercomputer Center, 52.3 GFLOP/S

     2015 Stampede, Texas Advanced Computing Center, 5,168,100 GFLOP/S

Thinking Machines was an early supercomputer manufacturer, based in the Boston area, that had actually gone bankrupt already by the time the June 1995 Top500 list was published Sun Microsystems would eventually acquire most of its assets in a 1996 buyout deal. The University of Minnesota's HPC department is now the Minnesota Supercomputing Institute, whose new Mesabi system placed 141st on the latest list at 4.74 teraflops.

#7: 1995 Fujitsu VPP500/42, Japan Atomic Energy Research Institute, 54.5 GFLOP/S

     2015 Shaheen II, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, 5,537,000 GFLOP/S

Fujitsu's been a fixture on the Top500 since the list was first published in 1993, and 1995 was no exception, with the company picking up three of the top 10 spots. The Japan Atomic Energy Research Institute has dropped off the list since 2008, though it may be set to return soon, with the recent announcement that it had agreed to purchase a Silicon Graphics ICE X system with a theoretical top speed of 2.4 petaflops which would place it just outside the top 25 on the latest list.

 

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