What's in a number? If you're the engineers behind China's Tianhe 1A, the number 2.5 means a lot—it's the number of petaflops (as in floating point operations per second) that the "world's fastest" supercomputer can chew through at its peak performance.
The key word here is "peak performance": while the Linpack benchmark used to officially determine the speed of the world's fastest supercomputers measures their ability to do calculations in short bursts, in the real world of scientific computing, what often matters most is a machine's ability to sustain that performance.
In other words, the Tianhe 1A comes on strong, but American supercomputers can last all night - or sometimes many days, depending on the scale of the problem they're tackling.
From Technology Review
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