The world's most powerful computer is not in Silicon Valley but in Guangzhou, China. The Chinese Tianhe-2 sits atop the world supercomputer rankings for a fifth consecutive period, which it has dominated since June 2013.
The latest rankings were released by Top500 on July 13 at the International Supercomputing Conference in Frankfurt. Top500 is a group of researchers who have been publishing a list of the world's most powerful commercially available computer systems twice a year since June 1993.
The Tianhe-2, which translates as MilkyWay-2, can perform 33.86 quadrillion calculations (petaflops) per second. That's 33.86 thousand million million, or 33.86 followed by 15 zeroes.
That's almost twice as fast as the next best, which is the Titan system at the U.S. Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The only newcomer to the top 10 is the Shaheen II, installed at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia, which comes in at number seven.
It's hardly surprising that the list hasn't changed much since November 2014 given the amount of money and research involved in developing these machines. The other nine systems in the top 10 were all installed in 2011 or 2012, and this low level of turnover among the top supercomputers reflects a slowing trend that began in 2008.
The Tianhe-2 was designed by China's National University of Defense Technology and crunches numbers at the National Supercomputer Center in Guangzhou.
The U.S. can take some credit for the machine as each of its 16,000 computing nodes house two Intel Xeon Ivy Bridge processors and three Xeon Phi processors. The rest of the supercomputer is designed and built in China, including the operating system called Kylin which is a domestic variant of Linux.
The TOP500 list is compiled by Erich Strohmaier and Horst Simon of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; Jack Dongarra of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville; and Martin Meuer of Prometeus, Germany. The rankings system uses a yardstick of performance called the LINPACK Benchmark. The benchmark requires each supercomputer must solve a standard dense system of linear equations. This benchmark figure does not reflect the overall performance of a given system, as no single number ever can, but as the problem is very regular it gives a good idea of peak performance.
The U.S. is still the biggest contributor to the list, with five of the top 10 and 233 entries in total, but that figure is down from 265 in November 2014. There are 141 supercomputers from Europe, 39 from Japan and 37 from China, although in terms of combined power, China's 37 machines are second only to the U.S. entourage.
American chipmakers, and Intel in particular, dominated the list as 432 or 86 percent of all the supercomputers on the list were powered by Intel chips. IBM is a distant was a distant second with 22. To see all the facts and figures. check out the full list here.
The best hope for the U.S. to regain the top spot may come in 2017 with the planned Summit supercomputer. Last November the Department of Energy announced a $425 investment to build two supercomputers far faster than the Tianhe-2. The Sierra, to be built in Livermore, Calif., is expected to reach 100 petaflops, and the Summit, which will sit alongside the Titan at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, should top 150 petaflops. Those figures would comfortably put Summit and Sierra at the top of the current rankings, but in 2017, who knows?
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