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China surges up Top500 supercomputer rankings


Nov 4, 2011
By Jack Clark, 14 November, 2011 17:47

The latest rankings in the Top500 list of supercomputers have come out, with China making its presence felt, as the leaders stay put in their top spots.

The latest biannual list of the world's most powerful supercomputers was released on Monday at the SC11 conference in Seattle. Japan widened its lead at the top with the Fujitsu-designed K Computer attaining an Rmax score of 10.5 petaflops, according to the Linpack benchmark, versus the 2.5 petaflops of the Chinese Tianhe-1a. However none of the top 10 leaders changed position.

"This is the first time since we began publishing the list back in 1993 that the top 10 systems showed no turnover," Erich Strohmair, an editor of the Top500 list, said in a statement.

Below the top 10 there is a change underway as China continues its technical ascendancy. The country now has 74 systems in the Top500, putting it second overall after the US's 263. This is up from 61 systems in June, 41 in November 2010, 25 In June 2010 and 21 in November 2009.

A high ranking in the list does not necessarily reflect a country's technical prowess, as governments may have simply assembled their systems from technologies built by companies based in other countries. Nvidia, Intel and AMD, for instance, dominate the list in terms of processors, and they are all US businesses.

China is trying to change this. More and more Chinese systems use domestically developed processors or interconnect technologies. China's most powerful computer, the Tianhe-1a, gets the bulk of its processing power from 7,168 Nvidia Tesla GPUs and 14,336 Intel CPUs, but it also gets some of its technical prowess from 2,048 FT1000 heterogeneous processors developed by the country's National University for Defence Technology (NUDT).

Another example is the list's 14th most powerful computer, the Chinese Sunway BlueLight MPP, which uses the Chinese-developed RISC-based SheinWei SW1600 processor to attain an Rmax performance of 800 teraflops.

More and more Chinese systems built with domestic technology seem set to appear in the list. The country is developing a petaflop supercomputer named the Dawning 6000 that will get its processing power from Chinese Loongson processors.

In a wider sense, the country has vowed to develop an exascale computer — a system at least 100 times more powerful than the K Computer — by the end of the decade and hopes to use many of its own technologies in the system, weaning it from dependence on companies like Nvidia and Intel.

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