The largest, fastest computer in the world is now on US soil. The computer array, named Sequoia, will be used to simulate nuclear detonations among other things.
With an incredible clock speed of over 16 petaflops, this computer is blindingly fast. A 'flop' is a floating point operation per second, and is a measure of computer speed. Basically, the 'flop' speed of a computer measures how many operations it can perform in one second, and is a measure of speed.
Previously, teraflop computers were considered incredibly fast. The prefix tera means trillion, whereas peta denotes quadrillion. Thus, a petaflop computer is 1,000 times faster than a terflop computer.
Sequoia also boasts memory of 1.6 petabytes, equivalent to roughly 1.6 million DVDs. Total storage is a staggering 55 petabytes.
While Sequoia might be the king for now, there are rumors of even grander machines being planned. The next step in computing is exascale computers: 1,000 times faster than the current machines.
We will we ever see petascale computers inside cell phones? Not for a long time. Each of these computers requires enough electricity to run a small city. In addition, the cooling requirements are far beyond what could be achieved on a single chip. Furthermore, it is probably impossible to pack enough transistors onto a single chip to achieve this level of performance. We simply can't make transistors small enough; if they're too small, interference at the quantum level overrides the signal.
As grand as Sequoia is, it will remain beyond the reach of ordinary people for a very long time.