Hardware, Supercomputers and Performance Computing
Hardware, more specifically computer hardware, refers to the machines, wiring and other physical components that exist within a computer or electronic system. These devices use electric signals and instructions dictated by software to process and perform tasks.
Computer Hardware Definition
Computer hardware is every individual device that allows a computer to function. Hardware is created by building 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 installing RAM to increase a computer’s total accessible 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.
Internal computer hardware examples: Central Processing Unit (CPU); motherboard; drives, such as a CD drive, hard drive and solid-state drive; power supply; RAM; modem.
External computer hardware examples: Output devices, such as a monitor; input devices, such as a mouse, keyboard or gaming controller; printer; speakers, external camera; external USB drive.
What Is a Semiconductor?
Semiconductors can be found in many everyday technologies, including smartphones, televisions, gaming consoles, refrigerators and LED light bulbs.
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.
Because semiconductors can be found in both everyday appliances and complex machines, more semiconductor companies are emerging to meet demand for the technology.
Top Semiconductor Companies
- Applied Materials
- Cadence Design Systems
- HRL Laboratories
- Intel Corporation
A supercomputer 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, perform trillions of calculations per second, primarily run on the Linux operating system and consist of multiple computers performing parallel processing.
Supercomputers are ideal for use in real-time applications and are critical to data-intensive and heavy computation processes. In addition, advances in high-performance computing have 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.
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.
Types of Supercomputer Hardware
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
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.
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.
The I/O system comprises disk storage, networking and tape devices, all in place to support the peripheral subsystem.
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 a unique and advanced computing method with the ability to scale exponentially, making the potential for advances in materials science, pharmaceuticals, machine learning, 3D printing, disease diagnosis and other fields 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.
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.
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.
Qubit Signal Amplifier
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
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
Superconducting coaxial lines direct signals 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.