UK scientists will soon get their hands on the country’s fastest ever supercomputer, a Cray XT4 with the calculating power of 12,000 desktop PCs working flat out.

Called HECToR (or High-End Computing Terascale Resource), and based at the University of Edinburgh’s Advanced Computing (ACF) facility outside the Scottish capital, the supercomputer is rated at 60 teraflops, several times faster than its predecessor.

Still, the £113 million project only puts the UK on the supercomputing map at number 17, or so says the authority of world supercomputers, the Top500 website . The world’s fastest super-calculator is still IBM’s BlueGene/L, which lives at the Lawrence Livermore national Laboratory in the US. With 212,992 processors and 478 teraflops, this puts HECToR’s 11,328 processors into the shade by a processing factor of roughly eight.

Due to be launched officially on 14 January, the supercomputer will be used to perform a variety of tasks for the UK science community, including modelling environmental change and aircraft design.

Before lauding its ability to model complex scenarios for global warming, it’s worth pointing out that this machine eats electricity on a scale as prodigious as its calculating power is impressive – its estimated annual energy bill had to be raised from £5.4 million ($10.8 million) to £8.2 ($16.4 million) a year, simply to account for recent price hikes, reports say.

As with all supercomputers, plans are always afoot to raise the processing levels to new heights. Details of the upgrade schedule will be revealed later in the month.