Very big computer made

Frontier supercomputer cabinet
(Image credit: Carlos Jones/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy)

In a surprise upset of 21st century technology norms, Oak Ridge National Laboratory has made a computer that is, in fact, very large. The Frontier supercomputer is too big to fit in a pocket or a backpack, like today's most popular computers, and it is also too big to fit in a mid-tower PC case, which can comfortably hold an RTX 3090. How much bigger could a computer really need to be? 

Much bigger, insists Oak Ridge National Laboratory. ORNL's Frontier has been heralded as the "first true exascale machine," setting a record for performance of 1.02 exaflops per second on a high-performance benchmark. An exaflop is one quintillion floating point operations per second, and if you're not sure how big a quintillion is, it's a million million millions, aka a billion billions. NASA estimates that the Milky Way is one quintillion kilometers across.

So, pretty big.

Frontier set the exaflop record using AMD's 64-core 2GHz Epyc processors, which you can buy yourself for only $8,000 or so. But you'll need a few of them, because the Frontier has a total of 8,730,112 cores.

That's 136,408 AMD Epyc processors. This computer is unfashionably large: it will not fit under your desk, or even in your house unless you knock down several walls or have a much bigger house than I do.

The Frontier supercomputer is also remarkably efficient despite filling up multiple server banks, each bigger than Andre the Giant. Frontier is now #1 on the Top 500 supercomputer list and the Green 500, which rates for performance per watt.

Here are some more big numbers:

  • Frontier takes up 7,300 square feet.
  • Frontier circulates about 6,000 gallons of water per minute to stay cool.
  • Frontier "currently has achieved 1.102 Exaflop/s using 8,730,112 cores. The new HPE Cray EX architecture combines 3rd Gen AMD Epyc CPUs optimized for HPC and AI with AMD Instinct 250X accelerators and Slingshot-11 interconnect."
  • "This system is able to produce a whopping 1.102 Exaflop/s HPL benchmark score while keeping its power efficiency at 55.23 gigaflops/watt"
  • "The system to claim the No. 1 spot for the Green 500 is the Frontier Test & Development System (TDS). With 120,832 total cores and an HPL benchmark of 19.2 PFlop/s, the Frontier TDS machine is basically just one rack identical to the actual Frontier system. Therefore, it makes sense that it is outmatched by Frontier’s 7,733,248 cores and HPL benchmark of 1.102 Exaflop/s. However, Frontier TDS has some impressive efficiency capabilities, with a power efficiency of 62.8 gigaflops/watt."
  • Andre the Giant was 7 feet, 4 inches tall and weighed 520 pounds. Square footage unknown.
Wes Fenlon
Senior Editor

Wes has been covering games and hardware for more than 10 years, first at tech sites like The Wirecutter and Tested before joining the PC Gamer team in 2014. Wes plays a little bit of everything, but he'll always jump at the chance to cover emulation and Japanese games.

When he's not obsessively optimizing and re-optimizing a tangle of conveyor belts in Satisfactory (it's really becoming a problem), he's probably playing a 20-year-old Final Fantasy or some opaque ASCII roguelike. With a focus on writing and editing features, he seeks out personal stories and in-depth histories from the corners of PC gaming and its niche communities. 50% pizza by volume (deep dish, to be specific).