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The first Asian power dominates a biannual ranking of the world’s 500 fastest supercomputers: not only with the world’s fastest machine for the seventh consecutive time, but also with the largest number of computers among the Top 500.

A new list of the world’s fastest supercomputers provides more evidence that the once-yawning technology gap between the Western world (including United States) and China is closing.  Not only does China have the world’s fastest machine for the seventh consecutive time, but it has also the largest number of computers among the top 500 —a first for any country other than the United States (Source: Top500). And there is more to know: for the first time, the world’s fastest supercomputer uses Chinese-made microprocessor chips instead of chips from Silicon Valley’s Intel.

Several American scientists compared what is going on now to the 1980s, when they worried that the nation was losing ground to Japanese supercomputers. Individual computing centers report descriptions and performance to them twice a year. Supercomputers are viewed in scientific circles as an indicator of national technology leadership, and they are vital for research in areas ranging from the development of new weapons and medicines, to the design of cars and consumer products. American computing experts and business executives have warned for years that leadership in supercomputing is vital to a range of national interests. 

 

For the first time, the world’s fastest supercomputer uses Chinese-made microprocessor chips instead of chips from Silicon Valley’s Intel.

 

A ranking of the 500 most powerful commercially-available supercomputer systems shows that, for the first time, China has more of the systems than the United States. The list is compiled twice a year by Top500. This list is maintained by Dr. Dongarra and Erich Strohmaier, a physicist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

In the private sector, companies like Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Amazon invested billions of dollars in cloud-computing centers that don’t focus as much on solving scientific problems. And last year, the United States blocked the sale of a number of advanced microprocessors to China over concerns they were being used in nuclear weapon development, which most likely accelerated the development of China’s own technology.

 

The big leap forward

In 2001, there were no Chinese supercomputers on the Top500. Now, China has 167 systems on the list compared to 165 from the United States. China also leads a more obscure category —total processing power, or the combined computing speeds of all of its supercomputers on the list. The fastest machine, the Sunway TaihuLight System, was installed this year at the National Supercomputing Center in Wuxi, in China’s Jiangsu province.

Despite those achievements, Intel still provided the chips for 91 percent of the machines on the list. And China is still catching up with the United States in state-of-the-art technologies, like software and the networking that links the thousands of chips in a modern supercomputer. But that could soon change. Officials at the Semiconductor Industry Association, a trade group, said the Chinese government has an ambitious $150 billion program to acquire as well as develop new technologies in various kinds of chips.

 

THE LIST (TOP500)

COUNTRY NUMBER OF SUPERCOMPUTERS

China 167

United States 165

Japan  29

Germany  26

France  18

Britain  12

India    9

Russia   7

South Korea  7

Poland  6

Other* 

*54 Countries in the “other” category each possess five or less of the 500 most powerful computer systems.

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