Difference Between Supercomputers and Mainframe Computers

Edited by Diffzy | Updated on: April 30, 2023


Difference Between Supercomputers and Mainframe Computers

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We require computers for almost anything and everything in life. Hence, we can infer that computers are an integral part of society. It is a fact that today's computers have different processing capabilities and price ranges and even come in different sizes. There are two main Computer Systems in use today. These Computer Systems consist of Supercomputers and Mainframe Computers.

While Supercomputers are generally used for complex mathematical calculations, Mainframes are used for database support and can be accessed by a great number of users. Supercomputers and Mainframe Computers can both process large amounts of data speedily, though the former is considered much faster and more expensive than the latter. Yet another benefit of these computer systems is that they can quickly perform scientific calculations for a variety of purposes. However, both computer systems have completely different functions as they are used quite differently.

Supercomputers are the fastest computer systems in existence, given that they are highly specialized. Mainframe computers can handle effectively handle several tasks such as warehousing and Data processing. As said above, both Supercomputers and Mainframe Computers are used for completely different functions. While Supercomputers usually focus on speed, on the other hand, Mainframe Computers give more importance to storage. These Computer Systems offer so much storage memory. This shows that they are advantageous to everyone from scientists to engineers, to businesses, etc. These computer systems strengthen their roots in computing by performing the necessary technical operations.

Supercomputers vs. Mainframe Computers

As mentioned earlier, Supercomputers and Mainframe Computers are the most powerful computer systems. Their essential differences include their size, cost, function, average speed, etc.

Read on for more detailed information regarding the meaning of these computer systems and the differences in terms of scope and functions.

These computer systems seem to perform completely different tasks. At the same time, Supercomputers prioritize faster computing for complex mathematical operations. Mainframe Computers, on the other hand, function more like a server. Since Supercomputers can handle large and cumbersome mathematical calculations, they can assist even with complicated scientific computations at rapid speed.

Mainframe computers, on the other hand, are used for a set of completely different reasons. Mainframe Computers are generally used as storage for huge databases and can be accessed by a large number of users.

In other words, we can say that Supercomputers help in diverse mathematical computations, whereas Mainframe computers usually act as massive support for databases. Another essential difference between Supercomputers and Mainframe Computers is that Supercomputers are considered the largest and most expensive in the world. Mainframe computers though huge, are not as large as Supercomputers. They are not as expensive either. Supercomputers can be used in scientific research as well. For instance, they can be used in the fields of astronomy and mathematics. They can also be used in a lot of other ways. For example, they can be used to develop virtual reality applications and weather simulations.

Mainframe Computers are usually used in banks and financial institutions. In both these places, the work routine usually involves repetitive transactions. Mainframes are used in printing/publishing,in the insurance industry, etc. as well.

We can differentiate between both computer systems based (on one of their prominent features)

  • The fact that Mainframes are capable of database transactions, but not at floating point calculations.
  • Supercomputers are supposed to be great for computing floating point calculations but not as useful for database transactions.

Consider the actual differences between Supercomputers and Mainframe Computers as presented in a tabular format below.

Difference Between Supercomputers and Mainframe Computers in Tabular Form

Parameters of Comparison Supercomputer Mainframe Computer
Basics and Implementation A supercomputer performs many huge mathematical computations of a complex nature. A mainframe computer's main purpose is to store large amounts of databases.
Invention The first Supercomputer was invented in 1976 by a man named Seymour Cray. It was called the Cray 1. The first mainframe computer was invented by the company IBM. The company still is popular for manufacturing these computers.
Speed Billions of floating-point operations can be performed by Supercomputers in a matter of seconds. Mainframe Computers can execute millions of instructions simultaneously
Size Supercomputers are said to be the largest computers in existence. Mainframe Computers are also large but comparatively smaller than supercomputers.
Expense Supercomputers are considered as the most expensive computers today. Mainframe computers are also expensive, but not nearly as expensive as supercomputers.
OS (Operating Systems) Modern Supercomputers Linux OS and derivative variants. Mainframe computers can run multiple OS at the same time
Performance Supercomputers are comparatively faster and owing to their ability to execute billions of operations per second, they are said to be far more efficiient. Even though Mainframe Computers can apparently execute millions of operations together- yet they are comparatively slower and less efficient than supercomputers.

What is a Supercomputer?

Let us analyze the meaning of the term Supercomputer. A Supercomputer simply refers to the fastest high-performance computer system available today. When Compared with a general-purpose computer, it is indeed incredibly fast.

The sheer speed and efficiency of Supercomputers, make them the most expensive computer systems in the world. Supercomputers are used primarily for engineering and scientific work that requires high-speed mathematical computations.

Today's Supercomputers are faster and optimally sized than their older counterparts. Some examples of SuperComputers include Sunway TaihuLight's very recent addition, which is also called Fugaku. Fugaku, Supercomputingconsidered as the fastest supercomputer.

What is a Mainframe Computer?

 A mainframe Computer is considered the symbol of what used to be good, like in the last century. At one time, Mainframe Computers were considered the best computer systems. Mainframe Computers were later called "mainframes" owing to their sheer size and the number of frames required to hold them. Mainframe Computers are powerful computer systems that have a history of handling huge business workloads in the past decades, ever since the 1950s.

 A Mainframe Computer is also called a Mainframe or a Big Iron. The Harward Mark 1 was the first Mainframe computer ever used. Mainframes, as they are sometimes called, are used by large organizations, for bulk data processing tasks, like enterprise resource planning, censuses, and large-scale transaction processing. It is to be noted, however, that Mainframe Computers help in storing data in large databases. Hence they are considerably slower than Supercomputers.

Mainframes are pretty economical while serving some basic purposes for which they are in use rather effectively. Mainframe Computers are also known for their exceptional data-solving capabilities. Mainframes mostly handle input, output, and storage. Thus, they are typically concerned with the issues relating to input, output, and storage of the large amounts of data they generally deal with after processing it.

Mainframes also deal with computer switching and central receiving in computer networks and database servers. They are generally used in financial institutions and banks (as mentioned earlier). Mainframe Computers are used in ATMs as well. Mainframe Computers are considered high-performance computers; they are big (but not nearly as massive as a supercomputer). Mainframes are usually as large as a room or as small as a file storage office cabinet.

Mainframes are stored in air-conditioned rooms because of the heat they generate. Today's Mainframe Computers are as large in size as some large refrigerators. The latest range of Mainframe Computers includes the z series latest launch, i.e., the IBM z15 and HP's Nonstop.

Differences Between SuperComputers and Mainframe Computers in Points

  • In terms of who created/invented them, remember that Supercomputers were created by a man named Seymour Cray in the year. On the other hand, Mainframe computers were invented by the company IBM.
  • While Supercomputers prioritize speed, Mainframe computers are indicative of a bygone era (1950s) simply acting as support for large databases and being accessible to a large number of users.
  • In terms of their size, Supercomputers are considered the largest computers in existence today. On the other hand, Mainframe computers are also quite big but not nearly as large as Supercomputers.
  • In terms of their cost, Supercomputers are considered to be the most expensive computer systems. Mainframe computers, too, are expensive but not nearly as much as Supercomputers.
  • While supercomputers' operating systems are Linux and their own variant operating systems. Mainframe computers can have many different operating systems at once.
  • While supercomputers are generally used for speedy mathematical computations and use a large amount of memory. On the other hand, Mainframe computers only deal with those tasks that deal with huge amounts of input/output storage.
  • Supercomputers are usually designed with institutional purposes in mind. However, Mainframe computers are created in order to handle projects.
  • In terms of their processing speed, consider that the processing speed of supercomputers is considered to be approximately 200 MIPS. On the other hand, the processing speed of mainframe computers is somewhere between 3-4 and 100 MIPS.
  • Finally, in terms of their practical usage: Supercomputers are used in the Aircraft Industry and also in Scientific Research. Mainframe computers, on the other hand, are mostly used in financial institutions or banks, etc.
  • In terms of examples: Good examples of SuperComputers include Sunway TaihuLight's Fugaku. An example of Mainframe Computers is the z series latest launch, i.e., the IBM z15 and HP's Nonstop.


It is a fact that both Supercomputers and Mainframe Computers are indeed the most powerful computer systems. You can refer to the above as a helpful guide to help you understand the basic difference between both computer systems. The concept of Supercomputer and Mainframe are alike because they are both powerful computer systems. Both are large in size and can compute at relatively high speeds. They are also both expensive to maintain.

On the other hand, Supercomputers and Mainframe Computers have completely different functions. While Supercomputers are used for their immense computational speed, Mainframe Computers usually deal with issues related to input/output and reliability. Did you know that Supercomputers can execute billions of instructions that have fancy technical names like floating-point instructions. What's more? Supercomputers can execute these within just a matter of seconds.

Supercomputers are very expensive, and their processing speed goes even beyond MIPS floating-point operations per second. On the other hand, you might not be aware but Mainframes were considered good old-fashioned 1950s technology. However, most have used a mainframe at some point. If you've ever used an ATM, then you might have actually used a mainframe. Yes, a reminder of what used to be good.

Coming back to the topic, consider that while Supercomputers are easily considered the most expensive in existence today, Mainframe computers are expensive but not nearly as much as Supercomputers. In the above write up, we have seen that not only are these computer systems expensive, they are also large in size and quite cumbersome. Both Mainframe computers and Supercomputers can take up as much space as a huge warehouse or a filing cabinet. They also are kept in air-conditioned rooms as they generate a lot of heat. These powerful computer systems are integral and contribute to society in a variety of ways.

Supercomputers are used in a variety of useful ways owing to their amazingly fast computational speeds. The same goes for Mainframe Computers since they serve by acting as vital support for databases. It is important to note that Supercomputers are used in many intelligent and productive ways in today's world. For example, as mentioned above, they can be used to predict the weather and to develop virtual reality applications. On the other hand, Mainframe computer systems are in use in Banks and ATM machines, so the layperson has probably seen and used one in his life as well.

To conclude, both computer systems can be best described as purpose-specific computers that are designed just for scientists and engineers. They are designed in order to solve complex mathematical and scientific computations. These often require large amounts of memory and speed to execute. We know that these are the fastest computers in the world designed to solve problems that any other computers can never do.

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"Difference Between Supercomputers and Mainframe Computers." Diffzy.com, 2023. Mon. 25 Sep. 2023. <https://www.diffzy.com/article/difference-between-supercomputers-and-mainframe-computers-1183>.

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