Chinese supercomputer retains top marks with caveats

By Park Sae-jin Posted : November 19, 2013, 18:03 Updated : November 19, 2013, 18:03
A supercomputer built by the Chinese government has retained its place at the top of a list of the world's most powerful systems. Tianhe-2 can operate at 33.86 petaflop/s - the equivalent of 33,863 trillion calculations per second.
Switzerland's new Piz Daint - with 6.27 petaflop/s - made sixth place. The Top 500 list is compiled twice-yearly by a team led by a professor from Germany's University of Mannheim. It measures how fast the computers can solve a special type of linear equation to determine their speed, but does not take account of other factors - such as how fast data can be transferred from one part of the system to another - which can also influence real-world performance.
IBM - which created five out of the 10 fastest supercomputers in the latest list, said that it believed the way the list was calculated should now be updated, and would press for the change at a conference being held this week in Denver, Colorado.
However, one of the list's creators suggested the request would be denied. "A very simple benchmark, like the Linpack, cannot reflect the reality of how many real application perform on today's complex computer systems," said Erich Strohmaier.
Tianhe-2 - which translates as Milky Way 2 - was developed by China's National University of Defence Technology and will be based in the city of Guangzhou, in the country's south-eastern Guandong province. It uses a mixture of processors made by Intel as well as custom-made CPUs (central processing units) designed by the university itself.
IBM notes that its own Sequoia supercomputer - which came third on the latest list - used a relatively high 73% of the machine's theoretical peak performance when it recently carried out what the firm describes as the biggest ever fluid dynamics simulation to date.  The test involved creating virtual equivalents of 15,000 collapsing bubbles - something researchers are studying to find new ways to destroy kidney stones and cancerous cells.
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