China’s Tianhe-2 supercomputer nabs top spot in global biannual rankings

China’s supercomputer Tianhe-2 retains its position as the world's fastest known supercomputer for the sixth time running, according to the biannual Top 500 list

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 November, 2015, 12:30pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 November, 2015, 12:30pm

China’s supercomputer Tianhe-2 retains its position as the No. 1 system worldwide for the sixth time running, as the country triples the presence of its systems in the Top 500 list despite a global slowdown in performance growth of supercomputers.

The biannual Top 500 list, which is released by researchers from institutions such as the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of Tennessee, ranks supercomputer performance by having each system run a Linpark benchmark application.

Developed by China’s National University of Defense Technology, Tianhe-2’s performance was almost double that of Titan, a supercomputer installed at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in US’s Department of Energy which came in second on the list.

Tianhe-2’s performance was 33.86 petaflop per second, compared to Titan’s 17.58 petaflop per second on the benchmark application.

Results show a slowing trend among performance rates in supercomputers. Six of the top 10 systems were installed in 2011 or 2012, and only three supercomputers installed in 2015 made the cut.

In the most current list, there were only two new entries in the Top 10 – US supercomputer Trinity at No. 6 and German system Hazel-Hen at No. 8.

The performance of the last system on the list of 500 has also consistently lagged behind historical trends since 2008. From 1994 to 2008, performance grew 90 per cent each year but has since plunged to a mere 55 per cent per year.

The US currently has a record-low 200 supercomputers on the list, down 13.4 per cent from 231 systems earlier in July.

However, China is bucking the downward trend. Chinese supercomputers have nearly tripled, with 109 systems listed compared to just 37 supercomputers six months ago.

The Tianhe-2 uses about 48,000 Intel Xeon and Xeon Phi chips to power its system, and plans were under way to double its computing capacities this year. However, these plans were derailed when the US imposed sanctions on the export of chips for supercomputing purposes in April.

Under the trade block list imposed by the US Department of Commerce, chip-makers such as Intel and Nvidia cannot sell chips to four Chinese supercomputing centres.

The Commerce Department reportedly rejected in April Intel's application for an export licence to ship Xeon and Xeon Phi parts to Chinese supercomputer maker INSPUR.

Chinese Vice Minister of Science and Technology Cao Jianlin reportedly told Russian media outlet Sputnik News that China plans to produce all the necessary components by itself in due time.

“We would like to cooperate with Intel, but if they are not ready, we can handle the task we are facing by ourselves," Cao said.

“Now we cannot provide the supercomputer with only China-produced equipment, however, we are working in this direction,” he added.