Credit: Jack Dongarra
China on Monday revealed its latest supercomputer, a monolithic system with 10.65 million compute cores built entirely with Chinese microprocessors. This follows a U.S. government decision last year to deny China access to Intel's fastest microprocessors.
There is no U.S.-made system that comes close to the performance of China's new system, the Sunway TaihuLight. Its theoretical peak performance is 124.5 petaflops, according to the latest biannual release today of the world's Top500 supercomputers. It is the first system to exceed 100 petaflops. A petaflop equals one thousand trillion (one quadrillion) sustained floating-point operations per second.
The most important thing about Sunway TaihuLight may be its microprocessors. In the past, China has relied heavily on U.S. microprocessors in building its supercomputing capacity. The world's next fastest system, China's Tianhe-2, which has a peak performance of 54.9 petaflops, uses Intel Xeon processors.
TaihuLight, which is installed at China's National Supercomputing Center in Wuxi, uses ShenWei CPUs developed by Jiangnan Computing Research Lab in Wuxi. The operating system is a Linux-based Chinese system called Sunway Raise.
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But just over a year ago, in a surprising move, the U.S. banned Intel from supplying Xeon chips to four of China's top supercomputing research centers.
The U.S. initiated this ban because China, it claimed, was using its Tianhe-2 system for nuclear explosive testing activities. The U.S. stopped live nuclear testing in 1992 and now relies on computer simulations. Critics in China suspected the U.S. was acting to slow that nation's supercomputing development efforts.
Four months after the Intel ban, in July 2015, the White House issued an executive order creating a "national strategic computing initiative" with the goal of maintaining an "economic leadership position" in high-performance computing research.
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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 anexascale system by 2020. The U.S. has targeted 2023.
"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.
China builds world’s fastest supercomputer without U.S. chips
June 20, 2016 3:13 AM PT