Asia Briefing: Chinese supercomputer twice as fast as nearest rival


China is easily dismissed as a laggard when it comes to innovation, but now a university in central China has come up with the world’s fastest supercomputer, which is more than twice as fast as its nearest rival.

In the world of the supercomputer, it’s all about the petaflops, and the Tianhe-2 is capable of sustained computing of 33.86 petaflops per second, which is the same as 33,860 trillion calculations per second, according to the semi-annual TOP500 listing of the world’s fastest supercomputers by a group of 500 experts.

Mainly Chinese
The Tianhe-2, which means Milky Way-2, was developed by the National University of Defence Technology in Changsha, in Hunan province. The TOP500 list is compiled curated by three computer scientists at universities in the US and Germany.

TOP500 editor Jack Dongarra, who toured the Tianhe-2 development facility in May, said the system was noteworthy in a number of aspects.

“Most of the features of the system were developed in China, and they are only using Intel for the main computer part,” he said.

“That is, the interconnect, operating system, front-end processors and software are mainly Chinese.”

The list was announced June 17th during the opening session of the 2013 International Supercomputing Conference in Leipzig.

The Tianhe-2 knocks the US Energy Department’s Titan machine off the No 1 spot. It achieved 17.59 petaflops per second.

Supercomputers look like old mainframe computers used to look – large banks of data processing power with lights and buttons, and they are used for extremely complex tasks such as quantum mechanics, modelling weather systems, simulating nuclear explosions, simulations of the early moments of the universe and designing jetliners.

Boost innovation
It’s the second time a Chinese computer has been named the world’s fastest. In November 2010, the Tianhe-2’s predecessor, Tianhe-1A, was the fastest but it was ousted by Fujitsu of Japan’s “K computer” overtook it a few months later.

It highlights China’s efforts to boost innovation in high-tech areas, and shows how the country is translating fast economic growth into higher research spending.