Tianhe-2, a supercomputer made by the Chinese government has held on to the top spot, making rivals eat dust in a speed test of the world's most powerful systems.

According to the Top500 list which was released on Monday, November 18, at the SC'13 supercomputer show in Denver, Tianhe-2 or "Milky Way-2" has been adjudged as the fastest of all supercomputers.

A team, led by a professor from Germany's University of Mannheim, compiles the Top500 list bi-yearly and the latest list of five fastest supercomputers remaind unchanged compared to the list released in June.

Per the Linpack benchmark test, Intel-powered Tianhe-2 is able to operate at 33.86 petaflop/sec, which is equivalent to 33,863 trillion calculations per second. Its closest competitors were Cray Inc's Titan with 17.59 petaflop/sec and IBM's Sequoia with 17.17 petaflop/sec.

The only change near the top was Switzerland's new Piz Daint supercomputer, which made it to the sixth spot with 6.27 petaflop/sec.

The Linpack benchmark test measures how quickly computers can crack a special type of linear equation to determine its speed. However, the benchmark does not take into consideration factors like the speed with which data can be transferred from one area of the system to another. This factor can influence the real world performance of the device.

"A very simple benchmark, like the Linpack, cannot reflect the reality of how many real application perform on today's complex computer systems," said Erich Strohmaier. More representative benchmarks have to be much more complex in their coding, their execution and how many aspects of their performance need to be recorded and published. This makes understanding their behaviour more difficult."

IBM created five out of the 10 fastest supercomputers and its head of the computational sciences department at IBM's Zurich research lab, Dr Alessandro Curioni, said that the manner in which the list was calculated needed to be updated. He would voice the same concern at a conference in Denver, Colorado, which will be held this week.

"The Top500 has been a very useful tool in the past decades to try to have a single number that could be used to measure the performance and the evolution of high-performance computing," notes Dr Curioni,. "[But] today we need a more practical measurement that reflects the real use of these supercomputers based on their most important applications."

Tianhe-2 has been developed by China's National University of Defence Technology (NUDT) and has been set up in National Super Computer Center in Guangzhou.

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