Difference between Supercomputer and Mainframe Computer

Supercomputers and mainframe computers are the most powerful computers that have been developed. We can distinguish between both of these computers based on the operations they perform. Read this tutorial to know more about supercomputers and mainframe computers and how they are different from each other.

What is a Supercomputer?

Supercomputers are one of the fastest computers available. Supercomputers are large-sized very expensive computers, mainly used for specialized applications that require immense amount of complex mathematical calculations.

Primarily, supercomputers are used for carrying out complex, fast and time-intensive calculations for scientific and engineering applications. The speed or performance of a supercomputer is often measured in teraflops, i.e., 1012 floating point operations per second.

Supercomputers are commonly used in the following applications −

  • Environmental research

  • Molecular mapping and research

  • Oil and gas exploration

  • Weather forecasting

Some examples of supercomputers include Jaguar, Titan, Nebulae, IBM Roadrunner, K-Computer, Tianhe-I, Jugene, PARAM, etc.

What is a Mainframe Computer?

Mainframe Computers are the types of computers that are used by organizations like banks, airlines and railways to handle millions and trillions of online transactions per second. Mainframe computers are best suited for large businesses and organizations to manage high volume applications.

Mainframe computers are also used as central host computers in distributed systems. The processing speed of mainframe computers is often expressed in terms of 10 to 100 million of instructions per second. The cost of mainframe computers is somewhere between 1 to 5 million dollars depending upon the system configuration.

The following are some important characteristics of mainframes computers −

  • Large in size

  • Very expensive

  • Use proprietary operating systems provided by the manufacturers

  • In-built hardware, software and firmware security features, etc.

  • Hundreds times faster compared to servers

Examples of some popular mainframe computers include Universal Automatic Computer (from UNIVAC series), ZSeries Mainframe Computer (from IBM), Non-Stop Mainframe Computer (from HP), etc.

Difference between Supercomputer and Mainframe Computer

The following table highlights how a supercomputer is different from a mainframe computer −


Super Computer

Mainframe Computer

Basic implementation

Supercomputers basically designed to perform large and complex mathematical computations.

Mainframes are very large in size and are expensive computers capable of supporting hundreds or even thousands of users simultaneously.

Invention and introduction

Supercomputer was first invented by Seymour Cray in the year 1976.

Mainframe computers are first invented by IBM.


The performance of a supercomputer is superior as compared to mainframe computers as supercomputers can execute billions of floating point operations in a second.

The performance of mainframe computer is slower as compared to that of super computer as mainframe computers can execute millions of instruction simultaneously.

Size and layout

Supercomputers are the largest and have biggest layout in the world.

Mainframe computers, as compared to supercomputers, are smaller in size and layout.

Operating system

Modern supercomputers have Linux operating system and derivative variants of Linux operating system.

Mainframe computer has the ability to run multiple operating system simultaneously.


Supercomputers can process data at extremely high speeds ranging from 100 MIPS to 900 MIPS.

The processing speed of mainframe computers range from 3 MIPS up to 100 MIPS.


Supercomputers are employed for large scale, complex mathematical computations in the field science and engineering.

Mainframe computers are mainly designed to store high volume data and handle high simultaneous connections.


To conclude, supercomputers are very expensive, large-sized computers used for specialized applications that require immense amount of mathematical calculations, while mainframe computers are used to execute many programs concurrently and supports many simultaneous execution of programs.

Updated on: 11-Jan-2023

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