For the last three years, China has topped the Top500 list of the most powerful supercomputers with its massive Tianhe-2. But today, the Top500 group announced that Tianhe-2 has been ousted by another Chinese supercomputer, the Sunway TaihuLight. The new machine, which is based at the National Supercomputing Center in Wuxi, can perform a key benchmark test called Linpack at 93 petaflops (a thousand trillion floating point operations per second)—nearly three times the speed of the Tianhe-2.
The new rankings further solidify China’s status as a supercomputing force to be reckoned with. In addition to this new machine, the United States has, for the first time, lost its status as the country with the most systems on the list; China now has 167 systems to the U.S.’s 165.
Unlike the Tianhe-2, which used Intel Xeon chips to take the top spot, the processors inside the Sunway TaihuLight are homegrown. At each of the machine’s 40,960 nodes, the supercomputer uses a new 260-core chip, designed by the Shanghai High Performance IC Design Center.
According to the Top500 site, Sunway TaihuLight will be used for research and engineering work, including weather modeling and advanced manufacturing.
Although supercomputing progress has slowed in recent years, there are still-more-powerful machines on the horizon. The United States, for one, has a batch of new machines in the works. According to a report on Sunway TaihuLight by Top500 team member Jack Dongarra, 2018 could see the arrival of three new U.S. Department of Energy machines, the speediest of which will be Summit, a 200-petaflop supercomputer to be installed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.
The Top 10 Supercomputers from the June 2016 Top500.org list
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Rachel Courtland, an unabashed astronomy aficionado, is a former senior associate editor at Spectrum. She now works in the editorial department at Nature. At Spectrum, she wrote about a variety of engineering efforts, including the quest for energy-producing fusion at the National Ignition Facility and the hunt for dark matter using an ultraquiet radio receiver. In 2014, she received a Neal Award for her feature on shrinking transistors and how the semiconductor industry talks about the challenge.