Sugar cube-sized supercomputer in 10-15 yrs: IBM

The research effort could shrink world`s most powerful supercomputer processors to the size of a sugar cube.

Last Updated: Nov 27, 2010, 11:43 AM IST

London: IBM scientists have said that a pioneering research effort could shrink the world``s most powerful supercomputer processors to the size of a sugar cube.

The approach will see many computer processors stacked on top of one another, cooling them with water flowing between each one.

The plan is to reduce computers`` energy use, rather than just to shrink them.

Dr Bruno Michel said future computer costs would hinge on green credentials rather than speed.

Michel and his colleagues have already built a prototype to demonstrate the water-cooling principle. Called Aquasar, it occupies a rack larger than a refrigerator.

IBM estimates that Aquasar is almost 50 pc more energy-efficient than the world``s leading supercomputers.

"In the past, computers were dominated by hardware costs - 50 years ago you could hold one transistor and it cost a dollar, or a franc," the BBC quoted Michel as saying at IBM``s Zurich labs.

Now when the sums are done, he said, the cost of a transistor works out to 1/100th of the price of printing a single letter on a page.

The overwhelming cause of those energy costs is in cooling, because computing power generates heat as a side product.

The Aquasar prototype clocked up nearly half again as much, at 1.1 billion operations. Now the task is to shrink it.

"We currently have built this Aquasar system that``s one rack full of processors. We plan that 10 to 15 years from now, we can collapse such a system in to one sugar cube - we``re going to have a supercomputer in a sugar cube."

Mark Stromberg, principal research analyst at Gartner, said that the approach was a promising one.

But he said that tackling the finer details of cooling - to remove heat from just the right parts of the chip stacks - would take significant effort.