Differences and similarities between a supercomputer and a personal computer

The supercomputer and standard personal computers have some characteristics that are the same and many others that are different. We discuss what is difference and in which way and later we check some of the similarities between the 2 classes of computers. You can read a more detailed article here on supercomputers.

The main difference between a supercomputer and a personal computer is the processing speed, capacity of RAM and hard disk, cost, and the number of processors among others discuss below. Other than the difference both are computer that requires power for them to operate. They need an operating system, other software, and input and output devices for operation.

Difference between a supercomputer and a personal computer

FactorSupercomputerPersonal computer
DefinitionIt is a specialized type of computer that is used for complex mathematical calculationsIt is a general-purpose computer that can be used for a variety of functions
SpeedSupercomputer process data fast. The fastest supercomputer Frontier can do 1.102 Exaflop/sWhile the latest PCs have high speed when compared to the supercomputer they are way too slow.
Physical sizeSupercomputers are the biggest type of computer in the world. It is stored in many racks of cabinets that are linked together using optic or copper cables. Frontier computer is estimated to have 680m2 according to Wikipedia.A personal computer was designed to be used by a single person hence its small size. Devices such as laptops and palmtops are computers that can be carried using a small bag.
The number of processorsSupercomputer like frontier has over 8 million cores of processing power. These cores include both CPUs and GPUs.A personal computer may have 2 to 4 processors and 8 cores to process information.
RAM sizeMain memory determines what can be stored for processing. The modern supercomputer can have RAM of over  9 Petabytes (PB).A standard personal computer can have a memory that ranges between 4GB and 8GB. For those that deal with high graphic data, they can use 16GB to the higher level. 
Operating systemThese big computers are mostly used for specialized functions hence they use open-source examples of operating systems such as Linux OS.Personal computers can use many different types of operating systems depending on user preference of computer brand. They can use Linux, Windows, and macOS among others.
Cooling systemWith so many processors and RAM, supercomputers generate a lot of heat. To ensure they are not damaged and work at optimum they require special types of cooling systems. Different manufacturers employ different types of liquid cooling systems. Some of these are liquid immersion cooling and thermosyphon coolingFor personal computers, the heat they generate can be dealt with by the use of a cooling fan and a heat sink. For those computers used for gaming, they can choose another type of cooling system called liquid cooling. 
CostSupercomputers are expensive to install and maintain. They are mostly owned by governments or big companies. They can cost way over 100 million dollars and then maintenance costsFor a device like a laptop, you can get a decent one for around 400 dollars depending on the brand.
Application areasThey are mostly used for the research of new technologies in different areas of study.They are used for personal day-to-day use. PCs are general-purpose computers
Storage capacitySupercomputer stores a lot of data that is used to process and for complex calculations. A computer-like frontier has over 47,000 harddisks that have a capacity of 700 Petabytes.For a normal personal use computer, 1TB of hard disk is enough. For those who need more than that you can have an additional external hard disk.
How they processThey employ parallel processing where many processor cores are involved to solve a given problem simultaneously.Some latest PCs can also use parallel processing but most implement multi-threading.
The number of tasksSupercomputers can be general or special-purpose computers. However, most are used to achieve a specific objective hence they are dedicated to a specific task. At any particular time, it is dedicated to solving a given complex calculation.One characteristic of a personal computer is that it is versatile. This means it can multitask and be used in a variety of activities. They can be used for document preparation, watching movies, playing games, etc. 
Power consumptionTo run a supercomputer you require a power supply that is used in a large industry. Frontier for example uses 40MegaWatts to operate.Laptops and other portal devices can operate with little power supplies by batteries. For a normal PC, they require around 240V to operate.
Examples Frontier, Fugaku, LUMI systems, Summit, Sierra, and Sunway TaihuLight among othersLaptops, desktops, and palmtops

Similarities between supercomputers and personal computers

With all the differences discussed above the 2 types of devices are still computers. Some of their similarities are as below

  1. They are electronic devices: both devices are still electronic devices. They use electric power and they have electronic components on them.
  2. Digital computers: they are a digital type of computer, which means they process discrete data.
  3. The main memory used is the same type of RAM. supercomputer just combines many RAMs while a PC may have 2 or 4 of them.
  4. The 2 require a cooling system mechanism to remove extra heat from the system
  5. They both require software that gives them instructions on what to do and how it should be done.
  6. Supercomputers and PC require an operating system to help boot and function.
  7. All computers will still require to use of different types of input and output devices for operation.