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China builds world’s fastest supercomputer without U.S. chips

Patrick Thibodeau | June 21, 2016
China’s massive system runs real applications and is ‘not just a stunt machine,’ says top U.S. supercomputing researcher.

It's not just China that is racing ahead. Japan and Russia have their own development efforts. Europe is building supercomputers using ARM processors, and, similar to China, wants to decrease its dependency on U.S.-made chips.

China's government last week said it plans to build an exascale system by 2020. The U.S. has targeted 2023.

China now has more supercomputers in the Top500 list than the U.S., said Dongarra. "China has 167 systems on the June 2016 Top500 list compared to 165 systems in the U.S," he said, in an email. Ten years ago, China had 10 systems on the list.

Of all the supercomputers represented on the global list, the sum of the China supercomputers performance (211 petaflops) has exceeded the performance of the supercomputers in the U.S., (173 petaflops) represented on this list. The list doesn't represent the universe of all supercomputers in the U.S. None of the supercomputers used by intelligence agencies, for instance, are represented on this list.

"This is the first time the U.S. has lost the lead," said Dongarra, in the total number of systems on the Top500 list.

China's work is also winning global peer recognition. It's work on TaihuLight has resulted in three submissions selected as finalists for supercomputing's prestigious Gordon Bell Award, named for a pioneer in high-performance computing.

The fastest U.S. supercomputer, number 3 on the Top500 list, is the Titan, a Cray supercomputer at U.S. Dept. of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory with a theoretical peak of about 27 petaflops.

Whether the U.S. chip ban accelerated China's resolve to develop its own microprocessor technology is a question certain to get debate. But what is clear is China's longstanding goal to end reliance on U.S. technology.

"The Chinese were already determined over time to move to an indigenous processor," said Steve Conway, a high performance computing analyst at IDC. "I think the ban accelerates that -- it increases that determination," he said.

HPC has become increasingly important in the economy. Once primarily the domain of big science research, national security and high-end manufacturing such as airplane design, HPC's virtualization and big data analysis capabilities have made it critical in almost every industry. Manufacturers of all sizes, increasingly, are using supercomputers to design products virtually instead of building prototypes. Supercomputer are also used in applications such as fraud detection and big data analysis.

HPC has is now "so strategic that you really don't want to rely on foreign sources for it," said Conway.

 

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