Mainframe Computer vs Supercomputer: 11 Differences

By Dominic Chooper on September 10, 2022

A mainframe computer supports storing a large database and a large number of users at the same time. However, a mainframe computer is smaller and slower than a supercomputer, which is considered to be the largest and fastest computing machine in the world.

These machines are also quite costly and can handle billions of transactions per second. In addition to that there are several other differences between a supercomputer and a mainframe computer.


Mainframe Computer vs Supercomputer – The 11 Differences

Mainframe Computer and Supercomputer

1. Definition

A mainframe computer is a large computer that can be used as servers to handle intensive applications for business operations.

On the other hand, a supercomputer focuses mainly on speed while performing hundreds of millions of data and instructions per second.

2. Year of Invention

The first mainframe computer was the Harvard Mark I. Its development started in the 1930s and was ready to use in 1943.

On the other hand, the first successful supercomputer was Cray1 which was invented in the year 1976 by Seymour Roger Cray.

3. Components

A mainframe computer comes with a huge internal storage, magnetic disk and tape storage, and several I/O devices.

On the other hand, a supercomputer usually comes with multiple Central Processing Units, I/O system and memory.

4. Areas of Application

A mainframe computer is used typically for bulk data processing such as in banks, credit card and other financial transactions, consumer statistics, census, and ERP or Enterprise Resource Planning.

On the other hand, the supercomputers are typically used for specific tasks such as weather forecasting, nuclear weapon development, and host processes for any local computer.

5. Operating Systems

A mainframe computer is designed to typically run different variants of Linux operating systems.

On the other hand, the supercomputers are designed to run many different types of operating systems.

6. Measurement

The performance of the mainframe computers is measured in terms of MIPS or Millions of Instructions per Second.

On the other hand, the performance of the supercomputers is measured on the basis of floating point operations per second.

It can handle billions of instructions per second.

7. Used for

A mainframe computer is used for storing large databases for businesses and allows several users to run different applications at the same time.

On the other hand, a supercomputer is used to carry out large and highly complicated mathematical computations.

8. Speed

The speed of operation of the mainframe computer is quite fast but it is not as fast as the supercomputers.

The processing speed of the mainframe computers usually ranges between 3 and 4 MIPS which can go as high as 100 MIPS.

On the other hand, the supercomputers are much faster than the mainframe computers while carrying out operations.

In fact, the supercomputers are considered to be the fastest computers in the world with a processing speed ranging between 100 MIPS to 900 MIPS usually.

9. The Cost Factor

The mainframe computers are costly but are not as costly as the supercomputers.

The supercomputers, on the other hand, are much costlier than a mainframe computer.

10. The Size Factor

The mainframe computers are large in size but not as large as the supercomputers.

On the other hand, the supercomputers are considered to be the largest computers in the world.

11. Variety of Tasks Handled

The mainframe computers are built to handle a wide variety of computing tasks.

On the other hand, supercomputers are usually purpose-built.

This means that they are best in handling a few particular types of institutional tasks.

Which is Better – Mainframe Computer or Supercomputer?

A mainframe computer, when compared to a supercomputer, is usually smaller in size, less costly, and slower in speed.

Based on these facts you may think that the supercomputers are much better than the mainframe computers.

True you may be, but that is in parts.

There are lots of different aspects to consider in order to truly label the supercomputers as better than the mainframe computers.

Typically, both these types of computers are designed to push their limits while performing at different fundamental levels to accomplish the best results while computing.

Both are quite large and very powerful computers but certainly are not the same thing.

The list of differences above is enough already to distinguish between them but to determine which among these two types of computers is better, if at all, you will need to know a few specific factors and information about the two.

The supercomputers mainly focus on speed of operations while dealing with a few specific programs at a time.

On the other hand, the mainframe computer can handle a lot of programs at the same time.

This is one specific aspect that puts the mainframe computers a step ahead of the supercomputers.

Read Also:  What is Personal Computer (PC)? Types, Features & More

The supercomputers are however more favored by the engineers and scientists because these are purpose-specific devices that help them to solve several complex scientific and mathematical calculations.

Apart from excellent speed, these computers offer large amounts of memory as well, both of which help them in their computational tasks.

However, the mainframe computers are more scalable but are designed for general-purpose computing that support large amounts of storage, input and output data.

These computers allow running multiple applications and operating systems in them at the same time but are certainly not problem-specific devices.

Being more scalable for both software and hardware and providing additional support to I/O hardware, the mainframe computers can run for several years at a stretch without any glitches and with minimal uptime.

It is the cost effectiveness and high performance features of the mainframe computers that allows them to be used in large organizations such as banks, healthcare, airlines, finance and more.

Therefore, as you can see, both the supercomputers and the mainframe computers have different functionalities that make them useful in different fields.

Now, it is for the users to decide which among the two is more useful or better, which ideally should be primarily based on the specific computing needs and preferences.


So, with the above descriptions and differences, it is clear now that both the supercomputers and mainframe computers are drastically different but are very powerful and serve different purposes for the users.

With such knowledge it should be very easy for you now to make a choice between them.