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Top Spot Goes to China


U.S. still has more than half of the Top500 supercomputing systems; IBM takes top green honors.

By Allison Proffitt

February 1, 2011 | According to the TOP500 list released in November, The Chinese supercomputer Tianhe-1A is the fastest system in the world, achieving 2.57 petaflops (quadrillions of calculations per second). The Tianhe-1A is housed at the National Supercomputer Center in Tianjin, China. The Chinese machine bested the U.S. Department of Energy’s Cray XT5 Jaguar system at the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility in Tennessee. Jaguar achieved 1.75 petaflops running Linpack, the TOP500 benchmark application.

The top five are rounded out by a Chinese system called Nebulae at the National Supercomputing Centre in Shenzhen, performing at 1.27 petaflops; Tsubame 2.0 at the Tokyo Institute of Technology achieving 1.19 petaflops; and Hopper, a Cray XE6 system at DOE’s National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center in California at 1.05 petaflops, only the third U.S. system to achieve petaflops performance. Of the Top 10 systems, seven achieved performance at or above 1 petaflops and half are new to the list.

Intel dominates the high-end processor market, with 398 systems using Intel processors, although this is slightly down from six months ago (406 systems). The AMD Opteron family made up the majority of the remaining systems with 57. Quad-core processors are used in 365 systems, while 95 systems are using processors with six or more cores.

Geography and Power Consumption

Five of the Top 10 systems are in the United States and the others are in China, Japan, France, and Germany. The most powerful system in Europe is the number six Bull system at the French CEA (Commissariat à l’énergie atomique et aux énergies alternatives or Atomic and Alternative Energies Commission).

The Chinese and Japanese systems are using NVIDIA GPUs (graphics processing units) to accelerate computation. In all, 17 systems on the TOP500 use GPUs as accelerators, with 6 using the Cell processor, ten of them using NVIDIA chips, and one using ATI Radeon chips.

China now has 42 systems on the TOP500 list (up from 24 in June 2010), moving past Japan (now with 26 systems), Germany (26), France (25) and the UK (24). The United States has 275 systems.

IBM emerged with the most energy efficient system; a prototype of the BlueGene/Q system set a record in power efficiency of 1,680 megaflops/watt, more than twice that of the next best system. Only 25 systems on the list are confirmed to use more than 1 megawatt of power. Average power consumption of a TOP500 system is 447 kilowatts and average power efficiency is 195 megaflops/watt (up from 150 megaflops/watt one year ago).

The TOP500 list is compiled by Hans Meuer of the University of Mannheim, Germany; Erich Strohmaier and Horst Simon of NERSC/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; and Jack Dongarra of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. •


This article also appeared in the January-February 2011 issue of Bio-IT World Magazine. Subscriptions are free for qualifying individuals. Apply today.

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