Saw in the news a few weeks back that Intel unveiled its Knights Corner accelerator chip which is capable of running at the speed of one teraflop.
A teraflop is equal to one trillion calculations per second.
If a teraflop is 1,000,000,000,000 calculations per second, then that is equal to 1 calculation in a trillionth of a second.
In the time it takes me to read one calculation (e.g., 2 + 2 = 4), Knights Corner has already done a trillion of them.
So how quick or small is a trillionth? I’m not a math major so I tried to put those numbers into some sort of comparison I could fathom.
A trillionth of a second is to a second as one second is to 31,700 years (give or take a few days).
Now wait until the year 33,711 A.D.
Another way I thought of visualizing a trillionth of a second, also known as a picosecond, was in terms of light.
The speed of light, c, is equivalent to 186,000 miles per second.
So, how far would light travel in a picosecond?
About 0.3 (there’s your number for the day) of a millimeter.
Yep, that’s quick.
Special thanks to the Wikipedia article on the picosecond for help on this one.
UPDATE: DECEMBER 17, 2011
For those of you who want to see how far light actually travels in a trillionth of a second, you can view this article from BBC News and video.