Difference between Supercomputer and Mainframe

Key Difference: A supercomputer is a powerful computer which is used for processing data at fastest possible speed. A mainframe is a large computer which is used for calculatiions dealing with a huge amount of data. Thus, the primary focus of a supercomputer is speed, whereas for a mainframe it is to deal with extensive amount of data. Mainframe computers are not as powerful as supercomputers.

A supercomputer is a very powerful computer. It is used for carrying out calculations at a very fast rate. It deals with huge amount of data, but still does not compromise on speed. They are used for calculations involved in complex processes. For example – analyses and forecasting of global weather pattern is conducted by using supercomputers.

These computers are very expensive and consume a lot of power. They are kept in controlled environment which offers a special cooling system and security features. 

Mainframe computers fall in the category of large computers. These computers are commonly used in large organizations. They provide access to frequently required data, which is stored in huge databases. These computers are capable of storing billions of records.

They are mostly used as specialized servers. They are generally priced at a range from 30,000 dollars and above. They also require a protective system which offers special air conditioning for keeping them cool. Almost every mainframe can run multiple operating systems, and therefore rather than operating as a single computer it acts as a number of virtual machine.

There are several differences between the two – mainframe is used for large server or large business applications, whereas supercomputers are used for scientific applications. They both are large machines. Typical cost of supercomputer is much higher than that of mainframes. Mainframes are measured in millions of instruction per second, whereas supercomputers are measured in floating point operations per second.

Comparison between Supercomputer and Mainframe:





An extremely fast computer capable of performing hundreds of millions of instructions per second.

A large computer used as large servers and for intensive business applications.



A super computer usually includes more than one CPU (Central Processing Unit), memory, I/O system,

and an interconnect.

Many banks of internal storage, multiple input/output devices and magnetic disk and tape storage.


Cray supercomputer

IBM ES/9000

Application Areas

Nuclear weapon development, accurate weather forecasting, host processes for a local computer

Used for typical bulk data processing like census industry and consumer statistics, ERP, and financial transaction processing

Operating Systems

Run many different types of operating systems

Typically run a variant of Linux as their operating system


Floating point operations per second

Millions of instructions per second

Image Courtesy: web.kma.go.kr, komecomputers.com

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