Gaming on Supercomputer: How?

Here’s how to game on a supercomputer:

You cannot game on a supercomputer, primarily because they are very expensive, closely guarded devices.

Even if you had access, the computer wouldn’t be able to run a game because of compatibility issues.

If you overcame that, then the supercomputer would be a poor gaming device for a number of reasons.

So if you want to learn all about gaming on a supercomputer, then you’re in the right place.

Let’s get started!

Gaming on Supercomputers: How? (All You Want to Know)

What Is a Supercomputer? 

Gaming on a supercomputer sounds all well and good, but do you know what a supercomputer is?

I mean, sure, it’s a computer that’s super, but do you really understand the concept?

A supercomputer is not some PC with really extra-powerful hardware.

That’s not even close to what it is.

Even though the dictionary will tell you that it’s just a more powerful computer, in order to achieve supercomputer status, you have to build something that is fundamentally different from a PC.

Mostly, this comes down to parallel computing.

Your average PC these days does some amount of parallel computation.

Most computers have processors with multiple cores, and those cores can perform parallel computation.

High-end PCs might have up to 16 cores.

A modern supercomputer takes this to a whole new level. 

A supercomputer will have thousands of nodes that can all contribute to parallel processing.

It would take hundreds of modern PCs working together to match a single, low-end supercomputer.

Can You Play Games on a Supercomputer?

Because supercomputers are large machines, or even groups of machines, with tons of processing power, they’re very expensive to build and maintain.

So, no. You can’t play games on a supercomputer.

There are only a few hundred of them in the world, and they are dedicated to solving some of the world’s most challenging problems.

No one who owns a supercomputer is going to give you access for your weekend gaming session with the crew.

You might think that you can just build your own, but a supercomputer has a lot more going on than just tons of processing nodes.

It needs incredible amounts of RAM, extremely expensive heat management, and a power supply that actually impacts the surrounding grid.

These are monster machines, and it’s not practical in any way to try to have one for the sole purpose of gaming.

You simply cannot play games on a supercomputer.

Why Can’t You Play Games on a Supercomputer?

Logistics and access aside, you’ll find that supercomputers couldn’t play your games even if you did get your hands on one, and there are a few key reasons for that.

A major one is the operating system.

All of the world’s most powerful supercomputers run on some form of Linux, which means the majority of games aren’t compatible.

But even if you do have a game that runs on Linux, supercomputers use customized Linux builds.

They have to because Ubuntu Desktop can’t accommodate thousands of processing nodes.

This means that your game is designed in a way that the supercomputer doesn’t even know how to run it.

Accessing a supercomputer is only the first wall in your way. Fundamentally, a supercomputer can’t game.

Are Supercomputers Good at Gaming?

But, let’s say that you could overcome all of this.

Maybe you’re a billionaire and gaming on a supercomputer is a pet project of yours.

So, you build your own supercomputer, and you have a software development team that can port your favorite game for the supercomputer operating system.

If you went that far, then you actually would be able to game on the supercomputer.

So, what would that be like?

Well, it would not be the dream experience you might imagine.

Even with all of this, the supercomputer would really struggle with gaming, and there are a few reasons for that.

Primarily, supercomputers aren’t designed for gaming, so they actually don’t have powerful graphics processing.

Many modern supercomputers use hundreds or even thousands of GPUs for processing, but those GPUs aren’t building graphics for the display.

Instead, they’re working together to crunch numbers for very hard math problems.

The concept is similar to how crypto coin miners use GPUs because they’re faster than CPUs.

When GPUs are used like this, they contribute nothing to graphical performance.

So, your supercomputer would be really, really fast, but the game wouldn’t look very good.

The other problem is that games are optimized to run on consumer computers.

They might be optimized for anywhere from 4 to 16 cores, but they’re definitely not designed to run thousands of cores.

Because of how the games are built, the supercomputer isn’t actually going to calculate things any faster or better than a run-of-the-mill PC.

Supercomputers are built for pretty specific purposes, and those purposes don’t include gaming.

Since they’re so specialized, they’re actually pretty bad at stuff outside of their intended design.

What if You Could Play Games on a Supercomputer? (5 Drawbacks)

We’re not giving up just yet, though.

The first thing I want you to know is that there have been entire supercomputers built for the sole function of playing games.

Deep Blue is a great example.

It was built for playing chess, and it was the first chess computer that was able to take on and beat the best human players in the world with high levels of consistency.

So, if a billionaire had a favorite game and wanted a supercomputer just for that game, then it might be possible.

The game would have to be re-engineered to run on a supercomputer, and the computer would have to be designed for gaming performance, but it’s within the realm of possibility that someone could make this work.

In fact, powerful cloud systems (which are similar but not identical to supercomputers) do this.

For instance, Nvidia has a service called GeForce NOW that allows you to game on their cloud system.

When you do, the cloud actually runs the game, and it streams the video to your computer.

Doing this, even low-end computers offer decent gaming experiences.

Running with this idea, what would the experience be like if you had a supercomputer designed for gaming and a game engineered to capitalize on it?

This is the disappointing part.

It still wouldn’t be the ultimate experience.

With this setup, your supercomputer would be able to provide good graphics and fast performance, but it wouldn’t be noticeably different from gaming on a top-tier PC.

And, in some aspects, it would still be an inferior experience.

Let’s peel back the layers and really understand why.

#1 Graphics Performance

Have you ever used SLI or CrossFire?

These are the Nvidia and AMD systems (respectively) that allow you to game with multiple graphics cards (or GPUs).

If you work hard enough you can get a couple of graphics cards to work together pretty effectively.

When optimized, these systems offer some of the best gaming performance you can find, but they rarely outshine top-tier solo graphics cards by very much.

As you add more graphics cards to the system, you actually create more problems than solutions.

With modern graphics processing and design, you can only share the load across so many devices before you stop gaining any advantages.

Even though your hypothetical supercomputer is designed to take advantage of multiple graphics nodes, there comes a point where you’re devoting more computational power to organizing the graphics cards than you get back from having them work together, and that point happens with far fewer cards than you might imagine.

If your design team is really, really, good, they might get a handful of graphics cards to play together nicely.

This will allow you to play the most advanced games at the highest settings, but keep in mind that each game has to be redesigned to even run on your computer.

For all you’ve invested, you’re not actually breaking new ground on graphical performance.

Let’s put it another way.

There’s a reason there isn’t a billionaire market for super gaming computers.

#2 Inefficient Processing

Outside of graphical performance, you have another challenge.

I mentioned this before, but modern games are designed to take advantage of a handful of processing cores, not thousands.

Your supercomputer is offering a lot of overkill, and it’s creating the same problem that exists with the graphics cards.

It actually takes a lot of computational power just to organize the thousands of nodes so that they work on the right part of the computation.

In fact, we can probably find a good gaming analogy to really understand this problem.

If you have ever played a massively multiplayer online game, then you might have been a part of a battle or event where there were many dozens, if not hundreds, of players all involved.

Was organization a problem?

Did people “zerg” their way towards an objective creating a sloppy mess that was hard to control?

Organizing processors is a similar problem.

Without consistent, precise instructions, they’ll actually get in each others’ ways, and the resulting mess is not efficient.

That’s why any game would have to be coded specifically to take advantage of your supercomputer’s processing structure.

And even if that is the case, what are you really getting out of it?

There is no game today that actually needs supercomputing power in order to run at the highest settings and with the highest possible performance.

You’re making all of this investment when the game is already ideal running on a handful of processing nodes.

#3 Poor Resource Allocation

This idea of resource allocation comes up again and again.

Your gaming supercomputer has to allocate RAM efficiently.

It needs storage, signal processing, routing, and a ton of other things.

On top of all of that, it needs enough power and cooling to work.

Supercomputers draw a ton of power, and they generate even more heat.

You’re investing all of this just to run a game, and you’re not really getting much benefit from it.

Even as a hypothetical, supergaming doesn’t sound like it’s really worth it.

But, we’re still not done yet.

#4 Interface

This might be the most compelling reason not to game on a supercomputer.

It offers absolutely nothing special in terms of your interface.

In most cases, supercomputers run like servers, and you actually control them from a normal PC that connects to it.

If your gaming supercomputer is set up the same way, then you’re really just gaming on a PC after all.

It’s exactly like using GeForce NOW or any comparable service.

But, let’s say that you want to game directly on the supercomputer.

How are you going to do that?

Well, you’re still going to use a mouse and keyboard. Maybe you’ll use a controller, depending on the game. 

Nothing special is happening here.

It’s the same type of inputs you get with a PC, and because of that, the supercomputer is offering nothing special.

Every computer in the world is more than fast enough to handle all of the inputs you can throw at it. 

You don’t need a supercomputer to run a mouse and keyboard, so as far as gameplay is concerned, the supercomputer isn’t even capable of enhancing your experience.

#5 Lag

Some of the problems with supercomputers can be solved through cleverness or brute force design, but lag might be completely unsolvable.

A supercomputer is closer to a large network of smaller computers than it is anything else, and it takes time for signals to go through all of the nodes and back to your output.

This means that your gaming supercomputer is introducing extra layers of lag that don’t impact normal PCs, and it’s a bigger problem than you might think.

Typically, supercomputers are built to run massive calculations that would take thousands of years on a regular computer.

If you get a few seconds of input lag, it doesn’t matter.

You’re saving thousands of years in processing time.

Games are designed in a way that it takes only a fraction of a second to run the calculations.

You want real-time responses from the game.

So, when you run that through the supercomputer, you’re getting lag with no benefit.

The exact amount of lag will depend on the design and how you use the computer, but it would be difficult to get your input lag lower than what you can expect from a standard gaming PC.

In most cases, you’re adding lag that can’t be eliminated by gaming on a supercomputer.


  • Theresa McDonough

    Tech entrepreneur and founder of Tech Medic, who has become a prominent advocate for the Right to Repair movement. She has testified before the US Federal Trade Commission and been featured on CBS Sunday Morning, helping influence change within the tech industry.

    View all posts