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China Takes Top Supercomputer Spot

November 15, 2010

China overtook the United States recently to become the world leader of supercomputing on Sunday after a www.top500.org survey ranked the country’s Tianhe supercomputer the fastest machine on the planet.

The Tianhe, meaning Milky Way, is, in theory, able to complete more than 1 quadrillion calculations per second — or one petaflop — when running at peak speed. By comparison, one day of tasks for Tianhe might take a top-notch personal computer 160 years to complete, working non-stop.

The National University of Defense Technology (NUDT) unveiled the supercomputer to media on Thursday. Its president, Zhang Yulin, told Xinhua News Agency that the 155-ton computer, with 103 refrigerator-size cabinets lined up in an area measuring 3,200 square feet, is expected to process seismic data for oil exploration, conduct bio-medical computing and help design aerospace vehicles.

The Tianhe project was financed jointly by China’s national high-technology research and development program and the Binhai New Area, a major economic development zone in the port city of Tianjin. The total cost for the project cost at least 88.25 million US dollars (600 million Yuan).

Tianhe runs on the LINPACK benchmark — a measure of a system’s floating point computer power — that was originally developed by US computer scientist Jack Dongarra. It has become an internationally recognized method to measure a supercomputer’s real performance in practical use.

Zhang said the technical data of Tianhe was submitted to the world Top 500 list, which is compiled by the University of Mannheim, in Germany, the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and the University of Tennessee in the United States.

The previous record holder for the fastest computer in the world, was the Jaguar computer at a US government facility in Tennessee. It registered a speed of 1,750 trillion calculations per second.

Besides the Tianhe, which does its record-setting “thinking” at the National Centre for Supercomputing in the northern port city of Tianjin, China also has the third fastest computer in the world, the Nebulae which is located at the National Supercomputing Centre in the southern city of Shenzhen.

While the United States dominates the Top 500 list, China now holds 42 spots on the international ranking system, putting it ahead of Japan, France, Germany and Britain. The Top 500 list is produced twice annually, and rates supercomputers based on speed of performance in the LINPACK benchmark.

The Tianhe supercomputer was the product of 200 computer scientists and more than two years’ work. It was housed in the NUDT campus in Changsha, Hunan Province before being relocated to Tianjin at the end of 2009, said Lin Nan, chief coordinator of the program.

Tianhe, equipped with 6,144 Intel CPUs and 5,120 AMD GPUs, was able to store all 27 million books in the National Library of China four time over, said Zhou Xingming, an academician of CAS and a professor with NUDT.

“As far as I know, a combination of CPU and GPU is something new used to make a petaflop computer. A GPU, or graphic processing unit, plays a role as an accelerator to make the computer run faster, but reduces its power consumption and cost,” Zhou told Xinhua News Agency.

Although the annual electricity bill to run the Tianjin supercomputer could run as high as 2.7 million US dollars, it could be ranked the fifth greenest supercomputer in the world, according to Green500 List in June 2010, compiled by researchers at Virginia Tech aiming to provide a ranking for the most energy-efficient supercomputers in the world and serve as a complementary view to the Top500.

Image Caption: The Tianhe-1A Supercomputer, located at National Supercomputer Center, Tianjin. Credit: NVIDIA

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