Top 500: Chinese Supercomputer Reigns

The new Top 500 list of the world’s most powerful supercomputers is out, and confirms the rumored ascendancy of Chinese supercomputers, which placed first and third overall. The Chinese Tianhe-1A system at the National Supercomputer Center in Tianjin earned the top spot, achieving a performance level of 2.57 petaflop/s (quadrillions of calculations per second). Third place is now held by a Chinese system called Nebulae, located at the National Supercomputing Centre in Shenzhen, which performed at 1.27 petaflop/s.

News of the Chinese system’s performance emerged in late October. As a result, the former number one system — the Cray XT5 “Jaguar” system at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility in Tennessee — is now ranked in second place. Jaguar achieved 1.75 petaflop/s running Linpack, the TOP500 benchmark application.

Rounding out the top five were the Tsubame 2.0 system at the Tokyo Institute of Technology (fourth at 1.19 petaflop/s) and Hopper, a Cray XE6 system at DOE’s National Energy Research Scientific Computing (NERSC) Center in California, which was fifth at 1.05 petaflop. The NERSC system was named for the late Admiral Grace Hopper, a computing pioneer who now has both a supercomputer and U.S. Navy Destroyer named for her.

Strong Showing for GPUs
The two Chinese systems and Tsubame 2.0 are all using NVIDIA GPUs (graphics processing units) to accelerate computation. In all, 17 systems on the TOP500 use GPUs as accelerators, with 6 using the Cell processor, ten of them using NVIDIA chips and one using ATI Radeon chips.

Although the U.S. remains the leading consumer of HPC systems with 275 of the 500 systems, this number is down from 282 in June 2010. The European share – 124 systems, down from 144 — is still substantially larger than the Asian share (84 systems — up from 57). Dominant countries in Asia are China with 42 systems (up from 24), Japan with 26 systems (up from 18), and India with four systems (down from five).

Making its first appearance on the list was Amazon Web Services, which had an Amazon EC2 Cluster Compute Instance place 231st on the list (via James Hamilton).

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About the Author

Rich Miller is the founder and editor at large of Data Center Knowledge, and has been reporting on the data center sector since 2000. He has tracked the growing impact of high-density computing on the power and cooling of data centers, and the resulting push for improved energy efficiency in these facilities.

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