China tops supercomputer list once again

20 Jun 2016

China has revealed the world’s most powerful supercomputer: at 93 petaflops, the Sunway TaihuLight enjoys three times the processing power of Tianhe-2, which previously held the top spot, and was also produced in China.

The world’s most powerful computer has been revealed at a supercomputing conference in Germany, with China again stealing the show.


Made in China

The 93-petaflop machine is an achievement on two points (a petaflop is one quadrillion floating point operations per second). Firstly, it’s now the most powerful computer by far. Secondly, it was entirely created in China, without the need for any western assistance.

This is unlike the Tianhe-2, for example, which relies on Intel chips, with Intel itself one of the pioneers of supercomputers.

TaihuLight is currently up and running at China’s National Supercomputing Centre (NSC), being used for research work across climatology, life sciences and data analytics.

“As the first No 1 system of China that is completely based on homegrown processors, the Sunway TaihuLight system demonstrates the significant progress that China has made in the domain of designing and manufacturing large-scale computation systems,” said NSC’s Prof Guangwen Yang.

Times are a changin’

Taking pole position in a running list is always a temporary achievement, and in technological environments, it’s often a fleeting one.

By 2018, for example, Intel will have helped the US government build a 180-petaflop machine called Aurora. It will be an upgrade of the US Department of Energy’s Titan supercomputer, which, after TaihuLight’s emergence, now drops to third on the supercomputing list.

Still in the US, Barack Obama last year signed a plan to build the world’s first exascale computer – that means 1,000 petaflops. Costing $200m to develop, the 15-year plan is fairly wide-ranging, with US Department of Energy, Department of Defence and National Science Foundations involved.

When the list of the world’s 500 fastest supercomputers was compiled last summer, the US had 233, Europe 141 and China 37. That will be updated soon, with China on the up.

Last Christmas, a list of Ireland’s most powerful computers revealed that the Galway-based Irish Centre for High-End Computing, naturally, hosts the most powerful machines in the country.

Trinity College Dublin is the highest-ranked educational facility on the list, hosting three of the top 10 machines in Ireland.

China flag image via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic