"This means that data centers that are constrained in terms of space or power can accommodate increased workloads within the same space and power envelopes," Brookwood said.
Another improvement is to the chip's computation capability. The chip's floating point, or numerically intensive performance, "has been greatly enhanced," from an already strong position, "due to a new arrangement that allows two integer cores to share one beefed-up floating point unit," Brookwood said.
If only one of the two integer cores needs the floating point unit, it can get more than twice the performance of what it could achieve with the older design, Brookwood said. That older design "basically married each integer core with a dedicated floating point unit that was less capable than the new enhanced model."
Some users may even choose to disable half the integer cores in order to ensure that each remaining core gets the full benefit of the bulkier floating point unit, Brookwood said.
The NCSA system will be focusing on floating point performance.
Bolding said the chips have 16 integer cores, but what they anticipate is that the applications will be using one of the integer cores but both of the floating point units, so for the predominate workload the chip is an essentially eight-integer core processor.
The chip runs up to 3.3 GHz but can reach 3.7 GHz, with a feature that AMD calls "Turbo Boost," which can take power that might have been allocated for a core that might not be completely busy and apply it to a core that needs a boost.
The Blue Waters computer will be in a data center than has 30,000 square feet of raised floor space. The data center has enough power to support 24 MW, and the system will be liquid-cooled. The facility will include cooling towers that will allow it to use naturally cooled water, instead of mechanical cooling, when conditions are right.
Larger supercomputers allow scientists to increase the resolution of their problem solving. They can assemble ever larger numbers of atoms together to model how they perform, and increase their ability to improve such things as weather forecasting.
The Blue Waters system will be used to study a wide range of science, from astrophysics, earthquake behavior, climate analysis and how diseases and computer viruses spread.
"We expect it do a tremendous amount for science," Kramer said.
Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed. His email address is email@example.com.
Read more about mainframes and supercomputers in Computerworld's Mainframes and Supercomputers Topic Center.