China overtakes U.S. by developing world’s fastest supercomputer

China overtakes U.S. by developing world’s fastest supercomputer

China dominates ranking of the world’s 500 fastest supercomputers for the seventh consecutive time. China also surpassed the US for the first time as the country with the most supercomputers in the top 500

China’s Sunway TaihuLight has been declared the world’s fastest supercomputer. The world’s fastest supercomputer uses Chinese-made microprocessor chips instead of chips from Silicon Valley’s Intel.

The supercomputer uses Chinese-developed ShenWei processors, “ending any remaining speculation that China would have to rely on Western technology to compete effectively in the upper echelons of supercomputing,” said a statement by the TOP500 project ranking the world’s fastest supercomputers.

TaihuLight uses 41,000 chips, each with 260 processor cores, to give it a grand total of 10.65 million cores. There’s also 1.3 petabytes of RAM—slightly less than Tianhe-2. The new computing champ is more efficient than its predecessor, too, drawing 15.3 megawatts of power, compared to 17.8 megawatts.

“As the first No. 1 system of China that is completely based on homegrown processors, the Sunway TaihuLight system demonstrates the significant progress that China has made in the domain of designing and manufacturing large-scale computation systems,” Guangwen Yang, director of the Wuxi center, was quoted as saying in the TOP500 statement.

In addition to beating out US computers, China also surpassed the US for the first time as the country with the most supercomputers in the top 500. China had 167 systems and the US had 165. Japan took third place with 29 systems.

The TaihuLight will be introduced at the International Supercomputing Conference in Frankfurt, Germany.

It has been long known that China was developing a 100-plus petaflop system, and it was believed that China would turn to U.S. chip technology to reach this performance level. But just over a year ago, in a surprising move, the U.S. banned Intel from supplying Xeon chips to four of China’s top supercomputing research centers.

There has been nothing secretive about China’s intentions. Researchers and analysts have been warning all along that U.S. exascale (an exascale is 1,000 petaflops) development, supercomputing’s next big milestone, was lagging.

TaihuLight is faster than anything scheduled to come online in the US until 2018, when three Department of Energy sites will each receive a machine expected to range from 150 to 200 petaflops. That’s ahead of where China is now—but two years is half an eternity in computer-time. That the lead has gotten so large galls some lawmakers for reasons both political and practical. Legislation exists calling for a supercomputer funding boost, but has spent the last year mired in the Senate.

TaihuLight’s stewards tell Dongarra that they’re putting all that power toward advanced manufacturing, Earth-system modeling and weather forecasting, life science, and big data analytics. That sounds like a broad range, but it’s just a small slice of what supercomputers’ capabilities comprise. “Each time we make an increase, we can add more science to the problem,” Papka says. “For the foreseeable future, until we can model the real world on a quark-for-quark basis, we’ll need more powerful computers.”

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