A Decade and a Half of the TOP500

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Back in 1993, Prof. Hans Werner Meuer and Erich Strohmaier launched the TOP500 project as a way for the industry to track the most powerful computers in the world. The resulting list, which is released twice a year, ranks the top computers based on the well-known Linpack benchmark. To most people, those 500 systems represent the definitive list for the absolute fastest computers in the world. Because of that, getting a spot on the TOP500 is eagerly sought by system vendors, component makers, and science/research organizations.

But the TOP500 project encompasses something more valuable than just bragging rights. The 30 lists that have been compiled since June 1993 represent a history of the supercomputing industry from the perspective of the machines themselves. Recently Prof. Meuer composed a retrospective of the 15-year record of the TOP500, in which he reviewed the project’s history (and prehistory), the rationale for the rankings, the limitations of Linpack and the list, the evolution of supercomputing technologies, and how the list can be used to forecast the capabilities of future machines.

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