Chinese Supercomputer Poised to Take No. 1 Ranking

A new supercomputer based in Changsha is likely to be ranked the world’s fastest later this month, reclaiming a crown briefly held by China’s Tianhe-1A in 2010. The new system has exceeded 30 petaflops (quadrillion calculations per second) in one benchmark test, almost doubling its nearest rival’s score. From Don Clark at The Wall Street Journal:

The new Chinese system—called the Tianhe-2, or Milkyway-2—uses two different kinds of computer chips from Intel Corp. INTC -2.60% as well as some homegrown circuitry, according to Jack Dongarra, a U.S. supercomputer expert who saw the system last week. He published details about the machine that were reported earlier by the publication HPCwire.

[…] The U.S. has previously responded to such challenges, including a system from Japan that temporarily held the top speed ranking. But the next U.S. supercomputer that could challenge the Tianhe-2 isn’t expected until 2015, said Horst Simon, another supercomputer expert who is deputy director at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

“If anybody believes that the Chinese are just in there for a stunt, this machine has proven them wrong,” Mr. Simon said.

He argued that the U.S. government has invested sporadically in supercomputers lately, while Chinese agencies have spent steadily. “In some areas where there has been a tradition of U.S. leadership, the Chinese are out there to really be in the race and win,” Mr. Simon said. [Source]

Computerworld’s Patrick Thibodeau provides more details on the Tianhe-2, and describes the challenges involved in progressing to exascale computing measured in quintillions of calculations per second. (By comparison, current PCs are reaching into the very low teraflops range of trillions of calculations per second.) For now, the earlier Tianhe-1A still ranks at number 8 on the Top500 list, though critics have argued that it is little more than a state vanity project. Another notable Chinese system, Sunway, arrived in October 2011. Although relatively slow, Sunway distinguished itself through the use of domestically designed and manufactured chips.

Applications for supercomputers beyond demonstration of national technological prowess include modeling weather, nuclear explosions, proteins and chunks of rat brain.


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