Chinese supercomputer ranked fastest

Updated: 2010-11-15 08:23
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WASHINGTON/San Francisco- A Chinese supercomputer was ranked the world's fastest machine in a list issued Sunday by US and European researchers, highlighting China's rapid progress in the field.

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The Tianhe-1A system at the National Supercomputer Center in Tianjin, is capable of sustaining computation at 2.57 petaflop/s, which equates to a mind-numbing 2.57 quadrillions of calculations per second.

As a result, the former number one system -- the US Department of Energy's (DOE) Jaguar in Oak Ridge, Tennessee that achieved 1.75 petaflop/s -- is now ranked in second place, according to the 36th edition of the TOP500 list released at

The list is compiled by Hans Meuer of the University of Mannheim, Germany; Erich Strohmaier and Horst Simon of National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) /Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; and Jack Dongarra of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

"China is rapidly developing its own high performance computing (HPC) capability. It can assemble the largest systems, it can deploy them, and put together the researchers who can effectively use them. With HPC, China can better compete on the world stage," Dongarra told Xinhua in an email.

Dongarra saw Tianhe's topping the world's supercomputer rankings as "a sign that the US is losing it edge on high performance computing technology", instead of "a threat to US dominance in high-performance computing."

The third place is also held by a Chinese system called Nebulae, which was also knocked down one spot from the June 2010 TOP500 list with the appearance of Tianhe-1A. Located at the National Supercomputing Center in Shenzhen, Nebulae performed at 1.27 petaflop/s.

Both Tianhe and Nebulae use processors from two American companies. "So yes China still lags in terms of processor technology," Dongarra said. "However China is developing the processor technology. So I wouldn't be surprised that in a year or two the Chinese processor technology will be on a par with the US processor technology."

The Tianhe-1A has mainly US processors but the interconnect was developed and produced in China. The interconnect is what allow information to flow from a processor to another processor and is critical to the overall performance of the system.

The Chinese built interconnect on the Tianhe-1A is "state of the art," according to Dongarra.

An official listing of the world's fastest supercomputers, the semiannual TOP500, is due to be issued at the SC10 Conference on High Performance Computing, Networking, Storage and Analysis being held November 13-19 in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Rounding out the Top Five slots are two new systems: Tsubame 2.0 at the Tokyo Institute of Technology at number four; and Hopper, a Cray XE6 system at DOE's NERSC in California in the fifth spot. Tsubame achieved a performance of 1.19 petaflop/s, while Hopper just broke the petaflop/s barrier with 1.05 petaflop/s.

Of the Top 10 systems, seven achieved performance at or above one petaflop/s. Five of the systems in the Top 10 are new to the list. Of the Top 10, five are in the United States and the others are in China, Japan, France, and Germany. The most powerful system in Europe is a Bull system at the French CEA (Atomic and Alternative Energies Commission), ranked at number six.

According to the list, the US is clearly the leading consumer of HPC systems with 274 of the 500 systems (down from 282 of last edition). The European share (125 systems - down from 144) is still substantially larger than the Asian share (84 systems - up from 57).

Dominant countries in Asia are China with 41 systems (up from 24), Japan with 26 systems (up from 18), and India with 4 systems (down from five).

In Europe, Germany and France caught up with the UK. UK dropped from the No. 1 position with now 24 systems (38 six months ago). France and Germany passed the UK and have now 26 each (up from 29 and up from 24 systems six month ago).

Supercomputers are used for complex work such as modeling weather systems, simulating nuclear explosions and designing jetliners. The TOP500 list highlighted Beijing's sharp increases in research spending, driven by booming economic growth.