Chinese May Have Fastest Supercomputer, Nvidia Says

China May Have Built World’s Fastest Supercomputer
The Tianhe-1A uses 7,168 Nvidia Tesla M2050 graphics processing units and 14,336 Intel Corp. Photographer: Jeffrey Tseng/Intel Corp. via Bloomberg

China’s National University of Defense Technology may have designed the world’s fastest supercomputer with speeds 43 percent greater than previous systems, said Nvidia Corp., which supplied parts for the machine.

The university’s Tianhe-1A set a performance record of 2.507 petaflops, or more than 2 quadrillion calculations per second, Sumit Gupta, senior product manager for Nvidia, said on a conference call with reporters. That would make it faster than any system on the global Top 500 list of supercomputers published in June, Gupta said.

China is investing in supercomputers to improve research and simulation for climate modeling, genomics, alternative energy, seismic imaging and defense. Since China began investing in the technology in 2002, it has risen to third globally in overall high-performance computing power, trailing the U.S. and the European Union.

“They’ve basically recognized the fact that they need to invest in high-performance computing to continue to advance their technology, to continue to advance their research and science,” Gupta said. “This is recognition that the United States had about 50 years ago.”

175,000 Laptops

The Tianhe-1A uses 7,168 Nvidia Tesla M2050 graphics processing units and 14,336 Intel Corp. chips. It uses power three times more efficiently than current supercomputers, according to Santa Clara, California-based Nvidia, which is the second-largest maker of graphics chips after Intel.

The supercomputer is likely to be the fastest in the world when the official list is unveiled Nov. 15, said Jack Dongarra, a computer scientist who helps maintain the rankings. He knows of no other supercomputer that is equal to it, he said.

The system, housed at the National Supercomputing Center in Tianjin, has the computing power of 175,000 laptops, Nvidia said. A petaflop is a measure of a computer’s processing speed and can be expressed as a thousand trillion, or quadrillion, operations per second. The speed of this machine is 2.5 petaflops.

“The scientific research that is now possible with a system of this scale is almost without limits,” Liu Guangming, president of the center in Tianjin, said in a statement supplied by Nvidia. “We could not be more pleased with the results.”

Officials at the supercomputing center in Tianjin and at the computer science department of the National University of Defense Technology didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Oak Ridge ‘Jaguar’

The new computer isn’t currently referenced on the websites of either organization.

China had two of the top 10 computers on the June list of the world’s fastest computers, compared with seven for the U.S.

The fastest computer on the current list is Jaguar, built by Seattle-based Cray Inc. and installed at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. The Jaguar has clocked 1.75 petaflops in testing.

In June, China’s Nebulae, at the National Supercomputing Center in Shenzhen, took the No. 2 spot with a measured speed of 1.271 petaflops.

The U.S. has been replaced in the top spot for the fastest computer before, only to reclaim the position. In 2002, Japan claimed the No. 1 position with the Earth Simulator.

The Tianhe-1A, unlike the Jaguar, relies on a combination of U.S. processors and Chinese technology, said Dongarra, who is the director of the innovative computing laboratory at the University of Tennessee.

“The interconnect -- the thing which moves information from process to process -- is Chinese based,” he said. “That is significant in the sense that the technology is not U.S.- led.”

The Chinese may try to replace the U.S. processors with their own in the next few years, Dongarra said.

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