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The Center for Nanoscale Materials at the Advanced Photon Source

High-performance computing (HPC) uses supercomputers and computer clusters to solve advanced computation problems. Today, computer systems approaching the teraflops-region are counted as HPC-computers.

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Overview

The term is most commonly associated with computing used for scientific research. A related term, high-performance technical computing (HPTC), generally refers to the engineering applications of cluster-based computing (such as computational fluid dynamics and the building and testing of virtual prototypes). Recently, HPC has come to be applied to business uses of cluster-based supercomputers, such as data warehouses, line-of-business (LOB) applications, and transaction processing.

High-performance computing (HPC) is a term that arose after the term "supercomputing." HPC is sometimes used as a synonym for supercomputing; but, in other contexts, "supercomputer" is used to refer to a more powerful subset of "high-performance computers," and the term "supercomputing" becomes a subset of "high-performance computing." The potential for confusion over the use of these terms is apparent.

Top 500

A list of the most powerful high-performance computers can be found on the TOP500 list. The TOP500 list ranks the world's 500 fastest high-performance computers, as measured by the HPL benchmark. Not all computers are listed, either because they are ineligible (e.g., they cannot run the HPL benchmark) or because their owners have not submitted a HPL score (e.g., because they do not wish the size of their system to become public information for defense reasons). In addition, the use of the single Linpack benchmark is controversial, in that no single measure can test all aspects of a high-performance computer. To help overcome the limitations of the Linpack test, the U.S. government commissioned one of its originators, Dr. Jack Dongarra of the University of Tennessee, to create a suite of benchmark tests that includes Linpack and others, called the HPC Challenge benchmark suite. This evolving suite has been used in some HPC procurements, but, because it is not reducible to a single number, it has been unable to overcome the publicity advantage of the less useful TOP500 Linpack test. The TOP500 list is updated twice a year, once in June at the ISC European Supercomputing Conference and again at a US Supercomputing Conference in November.

Many ideas for the new wave of grid computing were originally borrowed from HPC.

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