China ‘Leapfrogs’ US With Home-Built Supercomputer

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A new research system using China-built chips is more than four times as powerful as the US’ top machine

China has maintained its leading position in the TOP500 list of the world’s most powerful supercomputers, a role it has held for the past three years – this time taking the lead with a system built entirely of chips designed and manufactured within the country.

The list underscores China’s rapidly developing industrial and research activities and its drive to compete on an even footing with the rest of the world in computing, TOP500 said.

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Top two spots

China now holds both the first and second positions in the list, with the first held by Sunway TaihuLight, which registers up to 93 petaflop/s (quadrillions of calculations per second) on the LINPACK benchmark, the TOP500 project said.

The system, designed by the National Research Centre of Parallel Computer Engineering & Technology (NRCPC), uses more than 10.5 million locally made computing cores comprising 40,960 nodes, runs on a Linux-based operating system and is installed at the National Supercomputing Center in Wuxi, near Shanghai on China’s east coast.

It is twice as fast and three times as efficient as Tianhe-2, having a peak power consumption under load of 15.37 MW or 6 Gflops/Watt, so that it also has one of the highest ranks in the project’s Green500 list of low-power systems.

The system is to be used for advanced manufacturing, weather forecasting and large-scale data analytics, TOP500 said.

Tianhe-2, an Intel-based system that has held the top spot on the past six bi-annual rankings, is now No. 2 on the list.

Leapfrogging US performance

China’s investment into high-performance computing was spurred by the US Commerce Department’s ban last year on the sale of Intel chips to some parts of China, and the result is that the country’s supercomputer development has accelerated much faster than that in the US, according to TOP500 editor Jack Dongarra.

He noted that the Sunway TaihuLight uses a chip with 260 cores, compared with the 72 cores in Intel’s Knights Landing processor, and that while Tianhe-2 was twice as fast as the US’ top system, the Sunway TaihuLight is twice as fast again as Tianhe-2.

“China has continued in leapfrogging the U.S. by a considerable amount,” he said in a report on the new system.

China now has most ranked systems

The new list marks the first time since TOP500 began in 1993 that the US doesn’t have the largest overall number of ranked systems, the project said – it has 165 compared with China’s 167.

China had only 28 systems on the list 10 years ago, with none ranked in the top 30, and as such “has come further and faster than any other country in the history of supercomputing”, TOP500 said.

The US Department of Energy’s Titan, a Cray XK7 system installed at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, in Tennessee, now holds the No. 3 rank with 17.59 petaflop/s and the rest of the top 10 is made up of machines from Japan, Switzerland, Germany and Saudi Arabia.

Europe’s most powerful system is Piz Daint, a Cray XC30 system at the Swiss National Supercomputing Centre, which holds the No. 8 spot.

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