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Difference Between Supercomputer and Mainframe Computer

Today, computers come in a variety of sizes and prices, based on their processing power and throughput. Computer system hardware, for one, now comes in every conceivable shape and size possible to serve the varying needs of organization. There are two major classes of computer systems, which we are going to discuss in the following article: supercomputers and mainframe computers. Undoubtedly, they are the most powerful computers systems in use with the ability to serve a large number of users simultaneously and process huge volumes of data at very fast speeds. The burgeoning need to process infinite volumes of data and perform long scientific calculations led many individuals to design specialized machines to speed up the work. The next step down from supercomputers is a new class of computer systems with extensive problem-solving capabilities and they are called mainframe computers. Let’s take a look at the differences between the two categories of computer systems.

 

What is a Supercomputer?

Supercomputers are the specialized and most powerful computer systems which are typically distinguished by their relatively higher execution rates, their larger memory capacities, their high-speed input-output systems, and their insanely high prices.

In fact, supercomputers are one of the fastest computers in the world that are designed for intense scientific calculations that would be practically impossible for other computers otherwise. Supercomputers are the biggest of all computer systems with greater computing capacities than mainframe computers.

The term supercomputer was first coined by Seymour Cray, who designed the world’s first designated supercomputer for Control Data in the 1960s. The first supercomputer built by Seymour Cray was the CRAY-1 which was 6 feet high and 8 feet in diameter and it was built using more than 200,000 computer chips, almost 60 miles of wiring, and 3,400 integrated circuit boards. Also, among the first supercomputers was the IBM 7030, STRETCH.

 

What is a Mainframe Computer?

A mainframe computer is a large, scalable, general-purpose computer system designed to support incredible volumes of data. Mainframe computers are mainly seen in large organizations to serve large number of users simultaneously. A single mainframe computer could be as small as a filling cabinet or as large as a good-sized room. These are large boxes you would see in a traditional data center. They are large, relatively expensive machines with exceptional problem-solving capabilities and memory capacities measured in gigabytes and more.

The largest mainframe computers can process over 100 MIPS and their operating systems can usually handle multiple applications within a timesharing environment. They are able to process massive amounts of data in parallel, with incredible throughput. And the systems are capable of executing thousands of programs in parallel to minimize idle time. The prices of mainframe computers range from several thousand dollars to tens of millions of dollars.

 

Difference between Supercomputer and Mainframe Computer

Basics of Supercomputer vs. Mainframe Computer

A mainframe computer is a large, scalable, general-purpose computer system designed to support incredible volumes of data. Mainframe computers are mainly seen in large organizations to serve large number of users simultaneously.

Supercomputers are one of the fastest computers in the world that are designed for intense scientific calculations that would be practically impossible for other computers otherwise. Supercomputers are the biggest of all computer systems with greater computing capacities than mainframe computers. However, both the type of systems offers parallel processing.

Speed of Supercomputer vs. Mainframe Computer

Mainframe computers are a one step down from supercomputers, in terms of speed and storage. Supercomputers are all about speed and they are specially designed to handle scientific and engineering calculations very quickly. Their processing speed is measured in floating point operations per second or the number of operations performed in a second. The processing speed of mainframe computers can range from as low as 3-4 MIPS to as high as 100 MIPS or more, which is more than a typical microcomputer can process.

Supercomputers, on the other hand, can go beyond 200 MIPS.

Purpose of Supercomputer vs. Mainframe Computer

Mainframe computers are designed to handle tremendous amounts of input, output and storage and they mainly focus on problems which are limited by input/output and reliability. They are optimized for comparatively simple calculations and computations involving huge amounts of external data.

Supercomputers, on the other hand, are optimized for complicated computation tasks that take place largely in memory and they mainly focus on problems which are limited by calculation speed. Supercomputers are mostly purpose-built for one or a few specific institutional tasks, whereas mainframe computers are built to handle a large variety of tasks.

Applications

Mainframe computers often serve as central receiving and switching computers in regional or national computer networks as well as the database server that can handle the input and output needs of all terminals connected to it. Mainframes are mostly used in banks and other financial institutions where much financial work centers around repetitive operations and transactions; insurance industry; business and personal service users; education industry; for publishing and printing.

Supercomputers are mainly used for scientific research from astronomy to physics to mathematics to weather prediction. In addition, they are used in industry and development, and virtual reality applications.

Supercomputers vs. Mainframe Computers: Comparison Chart

 

Summary of Supercomputer vs. Mainframe Computer

In a nutshell, both mainframe computers and supercomputers come in the category of the most powerful computer systems in the world, but supercomputers mainly focus on problems which are limited by calculation speed while mainframe computers focus on problems which are limited by input/output and reliability. Supercomputers are the specialized and most powerful computer systems that are designed for intense scientific calculations that would be practically impossible for other computers. Mainframes, on the other hand, typically handle a large variety of tasks including data processing, warehousing, and more.

 

Sagar Khillar

Sagar Khillar is a prolific content/article/blog writer working as a Senior Content Developer/Writer in a reputed client services firm based in India. He has that urge to research on versatile topics and develop high-quality content to make it the best read. Thanks to his passion for writing, he has over 7 years of professional experience in writing and editing services across a wide variety of print and electronic platforms.

Outside his professional life, Sagar loves to connect with people from different cultures and origin. You can say he is curious by nature. He believes everyone is a learning experience and it brings a certain excitement, kind of a curiosity to keep going. It may feel silly at first, but it loosens you up after a while and makes it easier for you to start conversations with total strangers – that’s what he said."

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References :


[0]Image credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mainframe_Computer.svg

[1]Image credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sierra_Supercomputer_(48002385338).jpg

[2]Parsons, June Jamrich. New Perspectives on Computer Concepts 2016, Comprehensive. Boston, Massachusetts: Cengage, 2015. Print

[3]Cannon, David L., et al. CISA Certified Information Systems Auditor Study Guide. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, 2006. Print

[4]Billings, Charlene W. Supercomputers: Shaping the Future. Hyderabad, India: Universities Press, 2000. Print

[5]Sharma, Vivek, et al. Design and Implementation of Operating System. New Delhi, India: University Science Pres, 2010. Print

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