China rockets to supercomputing leadership with homegrown chip tech

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Lucille Barrett
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TOKYO China has jumped to the supercomputing powers’ front ranks with the new Sunway TaihuLight, powered by domestically developed chips. It was recently crowned the fastest computer in the world.

China rockets

In its debut on the Top500 list of the world’s fastest supercomputers in June, the Sunway TaihuLight overwhelmed such rivals as the Tianhe-2, a Chinese supercomputer powered by Intel chips have claimed the No. 1 spot on the past six Top500 lists. Furthermore, it was the first time for China to surpass the U.S. in the list’s total number of systems.

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The Top500 list is published twice a year, in June and November. In 2011, Japan’s K computer, developed by the Riken Advanced Institute for Computational Science, was ranked first in two consecutive editions of the list.

 China rockets to supercomputing leadership with homegrown chip tech 1
The following year, however, the K was dethroned, outperformed by the U.S.-made Titan and Sequoia machines.

In 2013, China’s Tianhe-2 took the title and maintained the No. 1 position for six straight releases of the Top500 list.

U.S. EXPORT BAN The Tianhe-2’s use of Intel processors became an international issue in February last year, when the U.S. government, claiming that China was using the computer to develop nuclear weapons, banned U.S. companies from exporting microprocessors and other supercomputer parts to the country.

But China’s National Research Center of Parallel Computer Engineering & Technology was already developing a newer computing monster using processors designed and made in China.

The Sunway TaihuLight claimed the top slot on the latest edition of the Top500 list, which ranks supercomputers in calculation speed. No other supercomputer came close to China’s new system, whose theoretical peak performance is 93 petaflops — meaning it can perform 93 quadrillion calculations per second.

It also took the third spot on the Green500 list, which ranks the 500 fastest supercomputers by energy efficiency, or calculation speed per watt. The two Riken systems were ranked No. 1 and No. 2 on this list in June, but they are specialized systems designed for energy-efficient calculations. In other words, the Sunway TaihuLight is the greenest supercomputer among purely high-speed systems.

China created a machine that is both powerful and energy-efficient by using an enormous number of processors through advanced parallel computing technology while restricting the performance of energy-hogging memory devices. Since the Top500 rankings are based on the speed of simple calculations, memory performance is not a critical factor.

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