computersComputing power is basically just your computer’s ability to perform an operation quickly. Everything it does can be broken down into mathematical processes; your computer’s processor just interprets commands that you execute as a series of math problems. The faster the processor, the more calculations per second it can handle. Fast processors are also better at dealing with really difficult mathematical equations.

You’ve likely heard of a CPU or Central Processing Unit. Your computer and any other personal computer you’ve come into contact with likely has a CPU. Within the CPU is an electronic clock, which generates a series of electrical pulses at regular intervals. This allows the computer to synchronize all its components and it determines the speed at which the computer┬áretrieve data from its stored memory and undergo the calculations necessary for your commands to be performed.

This means that when you’re talking about processing power, what you’re really referring to is the clock speed, which in turn refers to the number of electrical pulses your CPU sends out each second. The more pulses it sends out, the more equations can be performed and the faster memory can be retrieved. When you see a processor that is rated at 3.2 gigahertz, you’re looking at a processor that sends out around 3.2 billion pulses each second. It’s even possible to overclock processors, or push them past their advertised speed, but each clock has its limit.

So how super can a computer be? The Tianhe-2 supercomputer developed by China’s National University of Defense Technology was the wold’s fastest computer in 2014 with a processing power of 33.86 petaflops (quadrillions of calculations per second) on the Linpack benchmark. As 2015 draws to a close, we’re likely to have a new contender.

You may be asking, what the heck is a petaflop? Flop signifies floating-point operations per second. Most desktop computers have processors that can handle billions of flops per second, i.e. gigaflops. Computers with multiple processors are faster than single-processor machines because each processor core can handle a certain number of calculations per second. Multi-core processors are able to increase computing power while using less electricity, giving them yet another advantage.

3d illustration of cpu chip over white background

3d illustration of cpu chip over white background

Even the fastest computers can take years to complete certain tasks, especially if they’re being put to the task of de-encrypting information. A lot of times these tasks involve finding prime factors of a very large number, which is difficult because the computer must first determine the factors of the large number and then determine if each individual number is prime. If a number is incredible large, this kind of task can keep a computer busy for a long time.

Encryption has decryption has become a major facet of computing technology, as anything from internet currency like the bitcoin to national secrets are stored and kept safe by creating situations in which only intense processing power can act as a key. However, with quantum computing on the horizon, even this newly developed world is bound to change soon and yield bigger and better things for the tech industry and all the industries that surround it.


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