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Fast is Relative

IBM seems to be winning the battle for the title of being named "The Fastest Computer." At last report, the IBM Blue Gene/L supercomputer was computing 70.72 teraflops operations in a second.

Question 1: What is a teraflop? In other words, just how fast is this machine?

Question 2: Create a rough estimate of the number of computations done in your school district in one year. Is this equal to, greater than, or less than a teraflop? What if you were to include all school districts in the United States? Or, all students in the world over the period of one year? (Remember, these are rough estimations.)

Question 3: The prediction is that future supercomputers will be able to operate at pentaflop speeds. How fast is that?

Source: Discover, January 2005, p. 9.