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iPad 2 as fast as Cray 2 supercomputer, fraction of the size

updated 08:15 am EDT, Tue May 10, 2011

iPad 2 benches as fast as Cray 2 from 1985

Apple's iPad 2 is as fast as a Cray 2 supercomputer from a quarter-century ago, Top 500 and Linpack co-manager Dr. Jack Dongarra said late Monday. At 1.5 to 1.65 gigaflops of computing power, Apple's tablet would compete with the eight-processor, 1985-era system despite being just a sliver of the size. Where the Cray 2 was the size of a washing machine, the NYT said, the iPad 2 can manage the same performance in the space of a large notepad.

Apple's performance would have been enough to keep it in the Top 500 supercomputer charts up to and including 1994, Dr. Dongarra said.

The tablet also requires much less power and cooling. Cray's system was power-hungry enough to require a 3M-developed liquid, Flourinert, just to stay cool. An iPad 2's ARM processor uses less than 10W of power and requires no fans.

He added that the iPad 2 was even much faster than the original iPad. Its performance was about ten times faster, owing not just to the second core but to the switch to the newer ARM Cortex-A9 architecture. The newer PowerVR graphics could also play a role.

Unlike most supercomputers, though, the iPad 2 can't be clustered due to Apple's iOS limitations. Jailbreaking might make it possible, though, and it could be a "power-friendly" cluster even if the devices all had to talk to each other over Wi-Fi, Dr. Dongarra said.

Cray 2 at top; iPad 2 smaller than the blue notebook held by the Cray worker

by MacNN Staff



  1. PRoth

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Is that like...

    ... a nerdy Ken doll?

  1. Oliver_Clozoff

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Apple Crushes It

    Apple crrrrrrussshhes it with the iPad. Awesome!

  1. facebook_Clarence

    Via Facebook

    Joined: May 2011



    Have to admit the Cray looks a lot more cool though. Nuclear launch detected.

  1. CmdrGampu

    Joined: Dec 1969


    This is a surprise?

    All you have to do is look at the graphics. Even a 1st gen iPad can render 3D graphics in real time that look better than the graphics painstakingly generated frame by frame on a Cray X-MP for The Last Starfighter in 1984.

  1. Makosuke

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Funny Coincidence

    This article is a weird coincidence because, completely on my own, a couple of days ago I was trying to find MFLOPS numbers for the Cray-1 and a few other supercomputers to compare to modern Macs and iDevices.

    The two statistics I came up with that I was most interested in were different than this one:

    The Cray-1 (1977, ~$700K retail after the first, looks similar to a Cray-3) has roughly the same number-crunching performance as an iPhone4, give or take.

    [The Cray-1 could put out between 130 and 250MFLOPS, depending on tuning, while I found numbers ranging from 36MFLOPS for poorly-tuned apps up through about 260MFLOPS for the iPhone4; real-time graphics on the iPhone are of course drastically better.]

    Similarly interesting to me is that my new MacBook Pro (quad-core i7 2.2GHz SB) has similar performance in the same Linpack benchmark to the fastest computer on earth 20 years ago.

    I ran Linpack myself and got 38GFLOPS (with no tweaking); in 1990 the #1-ranked NEC SX3/44R clocked at 23.2 GFLOPS (with the same 4 cores, interestingly, although it was a vector computer, so somewhat different in terms of capability), while in 1993 the top computer was a Thinking Machines CM-5/1024 at 59.7GFLOPS Rmax in the same Linpak benchmark; the #2 that year, a 544-core version of the same CM-5, managed 30.4GFLOPS (also interestingly, if the numbers I found are correct, the CM-5/512 had a roughly comparable amount of RAM).

    Which is to say that, in general terms, a little less than 20 years has brought the performance of the fastest computer humanity could manage down to a high-end, inch-thick laptop.

  1. Makosuke

    Joined: Dec 1969



    Forgot to add that a CM-5/512 has a cameo in Jurassic Park; it's the big black series of towers with a bunch of scary-looking flashing red status lights. The NCSA's 512 CPU CM-5 had 16GB of RAM and 140GB of disk storage; that was composed of 1.2GB 3.5" SCSI disks with throughput of 2MB/s each, which were effectively in a sort of RAID-0 array; a paper I found said that each 56 disks had a theoretical throughput of about 110MB/s, but in practice only managed 32MB/s reading and a better 90MB/s writing, so presumably that 140GB array managed about 75MB/s write, 200MB/s read.

    Compare to 8GB (but a maximum of 16GB) RAM in my lowly MacBook Pro, and a 120GB SSD that can transfer data at 500MB/s (plus a slower spinning drive of 750GB that can manage around 90MB/s, of course).

    The CPUs alone would have drawn 7kW of power; can't find a number anywhere for the whole system, but probably at least 20kW; pricing was a weird, scandalous subsidy thing with DARPA, but somewhere over a million bucks.

    Compared to a MBP at 45W for the CPU on a Sandy Bridge i7 2.2GHz, under 85W for the whole computer including screen, GPU, and battery charging, and $3000 including a SSD.

    Impressive in many ways.

    Also, a promo video for the CM-5:

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