Hardware.

Supercomputers and High Performance Computing

Hardware Definition

Hardware, or more specifically, computer hardware, is the machines, wiring, and other physical components that exist within a computer or electronic system. These devices utilize electric signals and instructions dictated by software to process and perform tasks.

What is Computer Hardware?
Semiconductors
Supercomputers & quantum computing
What is Computer Hardware?
Computer generated image of computer hardware components suspended in the air on top of each other

 

Computer hardware explained

Put simply, computer hardware is the individual devices that allow computers to function. Hardware is created by creating circuits with electronic components and can exist either within the computer or as an external device that connects to the computer’s ports. All of these devices must be in good working order and pass signals properly for the computer to operate without error, and nearly all pieces of hardware can be replaced and upgraded to create a more powerful computer. Popular hardware upgrades include replacing RAM to increase a computer’s total memory or replacing a monitor with a higher definition screen.

Computer hardware can be broken down into two categories, internal computer hardware and external computer hardware:

Examples of internal computer hardware

  • Central Processing Unit (CPU)
  • Motherboard
  • Drives, such as a Blu-ray drive, CD drive, hard drive and solid-state drive
  • Power supply
  • RAM
  • Fan or a heat sink of some kind
  • Case
  • Input/output peripherals
  • Network card
  • Sound card
  • Video card
  • Modem

Examples of external computer hardware

  • Output devices, such as a monitor or a display panel
  • Input devices, such as a mouse, keyboard or gaming controller
  • Printer
  • Speakers
  • External cameras
  • External microphones
  • External USB drives or other forms of external storage
  • Projector

See more Hardware storiesCan advancements in monitors provide Esports teams with the edge they need to win?

Semiconductors
Vectored image of several electronic components attached to a circuit board

What is a semiconductor?

Semiconductors are a key component of the technology we utilize on a daily basis, everything from smartphones and televisions to refrigerators and LED light bulbs utilize semiconductors to operate. 

A semiconductor is a solid substance that provides conductivity between an insulator and metal. One of the most commonly utilized semiconductors is silicon, which is the key ingredient in the creation of electronic components as well as the namesake for “Silicon Valley,” known as the epicenter of modern technology.

Top semiconductor industry companies

  • Samsung
  • Intel
  • SK Hynix
  • Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing
  • Micron Technology
  • Qualcomm
  • Broadcomm
  • Texas Instruments
Supercomputers & quantum computing
Vectored illustration of a man on a podium interacting with a screen that is connected to several processing units

 

Supercomputer definition

A supercomputer, broadly speaking, is a class of extremely powerful computers and is often applied to the most highly powered systems of a given time. Modern supercomputers contain tens of thousands of processors and perform trillions of calculations per second, measured in FLOPS, or floating-point operations per second. Modern supercomputers primarily run on the Linux operating systems and are made of multiple computers performing parallel processing to multiply capabilities.

Supercomputers are ideal for use in real-time applications and are critical to data-intensive and heavy computation processes, ranging from weather forecasting and quantum mechanics to molecular modeling, nuclear fusion research, and more. 

The cloud computing that so many businesses and users rely on is only a possibility because of advances in high-performance computing. It has enabled enterprises to shirk the traditional model of maintaining an on-premises supercomputer in favor of scalable remote servers capable of producing massive processing power. 

See more Hardware storiesLearn how Supercomputers are revolutionizing the tech industry and beyond

 

Supercomputer hardware

Hundreds of thousands of individual components make up supercomputers and their integrated devices. Most are designed to support the internal processes that enable supercomputers to produce massive amounts of computational power. 

Supercomputer hardware includes:

  • Processors – Supercomputers possess tens of thousands of processors for performing billions of intensive computations in a single second. These processors fetch and execute program instructions to perform calculations and initiate memory access
  • Memory – Supercomputers feature high volumes of memory, which allows the unit to access information at any given time. A block of memory is packaged with a group of processors that create a node. Modern supercomputers can contain tens of thousands of these nodes.
  • Interconnect – Rather than nodes working on separate tasks simultaneously, the interconnect allows nodes to work collectively on a solution to a single task. The interconnect also creates a connection between nodes and I/O devices.
  • I/O System – The I/O system comprises disk storage, networking and tape devices, all in place to support the peripheral subsystem.
  • Power supply – Supercomputers often require upwards of five megawatts of computational power. Because of this, power supplies are constantly undergoing upgrades and updates to keep up with developmental needs.

 

Quantum computing explained

Quantum computing is an entirely unique and advanced computing method with the ability to scale exponentially, making the potential for advances in materials science, pharmaceuticals, machine learning and disease diagnosis nearly limitless. Unlike classical computing, which manipulates individual bits that store information as binary 0 and 1 states, quantum computers rely on quantum mechanics to produce quantum bits, or qubits. 

Qubits are subatomic particles like electrons and photons that are isolated to create a controlled quantum state. The quantum properties allow any connected group of qubits to provide significantly more processing power than an equivalent number of binary bits. Two properties that enable this are superposition and entanglement. 

  • Superposition – While it is only possible for binary to exist in one of two states, a 1 or a 0, Qubits work counterintuitively and are able to represent numerous possible combinations of 1 and 0 at a given time. The ability to simultaneously exist in several states is what is known as superposition and this allows a quantum computer to analyze massive numbers of potential outcomes at once. Once the final result of a calculation is measured, the qubit collapses to either a 1 or a 0.
  • Entanglement – This occurs when two qubits exist within a single quantum state, and any change to one qubit will result in the same change in the other, regardless of physical distance. Entanglement is what creates exponential increases in processing power whenever an extra qubit is added. Quantum computers rely on multiple linked entangled qubits to speed up calculations through the use of unique quantum algorithms. 

Quantum computer hardware:

Utilizing qubits for an extended period requires extremely cold temperatures — any heat introduced into the system can introduce critical errors, known as decoherence. Quantum computers must be able to create and operate at temperatures close to absolute zero.

Quantum computers maintain their temperatures through the use of a dilution refrigerator. These cooling systems mix the properties of two helium isotopes to allow qubits to exist inside.

  • The qubit signal amplifier is the first amplification stage of a quantum computer, which is cooled to a temperature of 4 kelvin.
  • Input microwave lines attenuate each stage in the refrigerator to protect qubits from detrimental thermal noise while sending control and readout signals to the processor.
  • Superconducting coaxial lines direct signal between the first two amplification stages and are made out of superconductors to minimize energy loss.
  • Cryogenic isolators push qubits signals forward while suppressing noise to maintain qubit quality.
  • Quantum amplifiers exist inside of magnetic shielding to capture and amplify processor readout signals while keeping noise to a minimum.
  • The cryoperm shield houses the quantum processor and protects it from electromagnetic radiation to maintain quality.
  • The mixing chamber sits at the lowest part of the chamber and provides the massive cooling power necessary to reduce the processor and other components down to an extreme temperature of 15mK.
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