China's Tianhe-2 Caps Top 10 Supercomputers

Every year, in June and in November, the Top500 list shows which supercomputers can crank out the most calculations per second. This go-around, the number one system showed that all the rumors leading up to the reveal were true. The Tianhe-2, a massive system that clocked 33.86 petaflops, or 33.86 thousand trillion floating point operations per second, represents China's return to the No. 1 spot—a distinction it has not held since November 2010, when its Tianhe-1A was considered the world's finest computing system. 

The Top500 list is typically topped by a U.S. Department of Energy machine. But Tianhe-2 trounces that department's entrants, including the old top dog on the list, a supercomputer called Titan which is housed at the U.S. Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Titan executed 17.59 petaflops—a little over half of the Tianhe-2's supercomputing muscle.

Built at China's National University of Defense Technology, Tianhe-2 (also known as the Milky Way-2) consists of 16 000 nodes. Inside each node, two Intel Xeon IvyBridge processors and three Xeon Phi processors run the show, adding up to a total of 3.12 million computing cores. The machine is scheduled to be fully operational by the end of this year.

Tianhe-2's surprise arrival symbolizes China's unflinching commitment to the supercomputing arms race; the machine was not expected to be deployed until 2015. Moreover, it uses technologies that have almost all been invented in China, according to Top500 editor Jack Dongarra.

"Most of the features of the system were developed in China, and they are only using Intel for the main compute part. The interconnect, operating system, front-end processors and software are mainly Chinese," he said in a statement. Dongarra saw the Tianhe-2 system in May, which led to a flurry of leaks about its tremendous power and capabilities earlier this month.

But the United States is holding fast to its overall dominance of the Top500 list: 253 of the 500 systems are still American-made. China comes in second place, claiming 65 systems on the list, followed by Japan, the U.K., France, and Germany.

With Tianhe-2 now at the top, Sequoia—an IBM BlueGene/Q system at the DOE's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and formerly the world's No. 2 supercomputer—dropped to third place. Sequoia, with its 1.57 million cores, first came online in 2011 and scored 17.17 petaflops on the Linpack benchmark. Three more IBM BlueGene/Q systems made the top 10 list, coming in fifth, seventh, and eighth places.

Fujitsu's "K computer" installed at the RIKEN Advanced Insititute for Computational Science (AICS) in Kobe, Japan, sits at No. 4. The rest of the top 10 include: the upgraded Stampede at the Texas Advanced Computing Center of the University of Texas, Austin; JUQUEEN at the Forschungszentrum Juelich in Germany (the most powerful system in Europe); SuperMUC, an IBM iDataplex system installed at Leibniz Rechenzentrum in Germany; and Tianhe-1A at the National Supercomputing Center in Tianjin, China, holding steady at No. 10.  

Photo: Jack Dongarra

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