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Long-lasting benchmarks

While researching the Top500 list for last week’s blog, I ran across an interesting article (http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/05/09/the-ipad-in-your-hand-as-fast-as-a-supercomputer-of-yore/?ref=technology).  Its basic premise is that the iPad 2 has about the same computing power as the Cray 2 supercomputer, the world’s fastest computer in 1985.  I’m old enough to remember the Cray 1 and Cray 2 supercomputers with their unique circular shapes.  In their day, they were very expensive and, consequently, rare.  Only government agencies could afford to buy them.  Just getting to see one was a big deal.  In stark contrast, I seem to see iPads everywhere.

What was the benchmark for determining this?  It was LINPACK, the same benchmark that determined the winner of the Top500 earlier in June.  Based on the LINPACK results, I am holding in my hand a device that could rival the most powerful in the world about 25 years ago.  Another perspective is that I have a phone faster than the most powerful computer in the world the year I graduated with my CS degree.  And, I use it to play Angry Birds…   (Picture trying to convince someone in the 80s that one day millions of hand-held Cray 2 supercomputers would be used to catapult exploding birds at annoying oinking pigs.)

One interesting thought from all of this is the power of benchmarks that last over time.  While it will be a rare (and rather limited) benchmark that can last as long as LINPACK, it is important for benchmarks to not change too frequently.  On the other side of the scale is the desire for a benchmark to keep up with current technology.  With HDXPRT, we are aiming for about a year between versions.  I’d love to know whether you think that is too long, too short, or about right.

Bill

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