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University of VictoriaIntroduction to IT English
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Software for Powerful Computers

Although software lets a home computer accomplish many different tasks, some tasks are so difficult that they can only be done effectively by a powerful computer or a group of computers working together.

Here are some common tasks for powerful computers.

Computer Animation

Animation studios such as Pixar, creators of Finding Nemo, draw their characters and animate them using many powerful computers.

In the Lord of the Rings series of movies, the filmmakers used software to draw creatures on the screen and to decide where each individual warrior should go in the large battle scenes.

To see an example of computer animation, watch this movie clip. (The clip is a 480 KB movie in MPEG format.)

Large Databases

The databases used by banks, online stores such as Amazon, or search engines such as Google will often need to process thousands of requests for information every second. It takes one or more powerful computers to provide the capacity needed to handle every request quickly.

Simulations

By simulating an event in software, programmers can try to predict events in the real world. Computers are used to simulate hurricanes moving across the ocean, the explosions from nuclear weapons, movements of the stock market, and the effect of new medicines on cancer or other diseases.

A hurricane
Computers are used simulate hurricanes

Data Mining and Grid Computing

Computers can analyze large amounts of data, finding patterns that humans may not see. This process is sometimes called data mining. When many computers in a network are used together to analyze data, it is called a grid computing system. Grid computing is often used in data mining because finding hidden patterns in large amounts of data is quicker with more computers.

The SETI@home project is an example of grid computing. The project uses computers all over the world to examine signals received by the Arecibo radio telescope for signs of intelligent life in outer space.

A grid computing system at the University of Pennsylvania helps doctors diagnose breast cancer in individual patients by analyzing digital X-rays.

A medical scan
Many computers are used together in complex medical scans