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At 2.5 Petaflops, China’s Tianhe-1A Likely World’s Fastest Supercomputer

Oct. 28 – A new supercomputer built in China is poised to take the number one spot in the twice-yearly Top 500 list of the world’s fastest supercomputers scheduled to be released in November.

Previously ranked seventh when the index was last released in June, China’s Tianhe-1A can now reach sustained performance levels of 2.507 petaflops – 43 percent faster than any other known supercomputer.

In fact, the Tianhe-1A was not even the fastest supercomputer in China in the last Top 500 list. That award went to the country’s Nebulae supercomputer based in Shenzhen, which recorded performance levels of 1.271 petaflops, a surprise second in the global index trailing only the U.S.-based Cray Jaguar system’s 1.75 petaflops.

The ultra-fast Tianhe-1A computing system, designed by China’s National University of Defense Technology and located at the National Supercomputing Center in Tianjin, generates its power from 7,168 Nvidia Tesla M2050 graphics processing units and 14,336 Intel chips. It has the computing power equivalent of 175,000 laptops and is three times more power efficient than current systems, according to Nvidia, which has already dubbed it “the fastest system in China and in the world today.”

In addition, the supercomputer has a theoretical performance of 4.669 petaflops when all its graphics processing units are operational, according to a Nvidia spokesman.

“I don’t know of another system that is going to be anywhere near the performance and the power of this machine,” said Jack Dongarra, a U.S. supercomputer expert who has overseen the Top 500 index since it was first established in 1993 and who inspected China’s new system in Tianjin last week. “It is quite impressive.”

China will utilize the Tianhe-1A as an “open access” system, available to other countries and organizations to use for large scale scientific projects and computations, according to Ujesh Desai, Nvidia’s vice president of product marketing.

Supercomputers are used for complex research simulations covering climate change modeling, genomics, seismic imaging, military design and code breaking.

Related Reading
China has World’s Second Fastest Computer, India Lags Behind

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9 Responses to At 2.5 Petaflops, China’s Tianhe-1A Likely World’s Fastest Supercomputer

  1. The_Observer says:

    Not bad for a country when only 15 years ago US computer companies weren’t allowed to export even mid-range PCs to China without a licence.

  2. Dick Carl says:

    Yes, there is an article in New York Times. The processors are stock Intel and Nvidia. The secret sauce is the interconnecting software/system which is proprietary to China. Let’s wait when China develops it’s own processor.

  3. The_Observer says:

    The full list comes out in early November. I wouldn’t be surprised if China has 2 supercomputers in the top 5. The list will no doubt be updated again with other developments such as IBM Blue Waters supercomputer due to be completed in 2011 with a peak 10 petaflops, and Fujitsu’s ‘K Computer’ due for delivery in 2012 and also with a peak 10 petaflops.

  4. Oh boy says:

    I think some issue is missed with this and the “new super fast trains”.

    The technology was there previously. The only reason it’s built in China is because they have decided to invest the money in it.

    This could have been done for example in Europe as well, however in these countries they would consider the long term economic implications and priorities (not to say they would get it right, but they would and it would be at least somewhat transparent decision).

    It’s like the Maglev train actually, the reason it’s in China because they have decided to invest the money in it while other countries considered it pointless.

    Take the subway in Shanghai and you’ll notice that if you take car no. 8 when it stops, at many stops there are no signs on the wall with the station wall. Now, THIS is China and THIS show how far they have to go even if they have money (now) to buy expensive trains.

    Before we all get excited about this and glorify the decision, lets take a moment and recall how glorious stock bubbles look before they pop. There’s no difference here, people look at the past 10 years which is a very short time and go all ecstatic.

    And pop it will, this party will not last forever.

  5. The_Observer says:

    @ Oh Boy
    You seemed to have gotten up on the wrong side of the bed today!
    Supercomputers are not a waste of money. They used for research and can help a country’s development and economy. As for the Chinese HSR the cost was well within the costs of other similar lines built in Europe and Japan, i.e. USD 25 million per km for the Chinese lines is well within the Euro 9 – 40 millions for the latter countries’ lines. The Chinese bult their Maglev as a trial and found it cost more km than other HSR and has not decided yet to build any more high-speed maglev lines.
    If you were trying to say that there is an economic bubble in China then maybe. The first test came with the GFC and China avioded most of that carnage. Now China is trying to cool inflation, withdraw some of their stimulus and move China towards more internal consumption. While the jury may be out the Chinese are at least attempting to sort out their problems.

  6. Oh boy says:


    Yes, it seems I did wake up on the wrong side that day, sorry about that:)

    Unfortunately you completely missed my point, perhaps as it was not well put.

    The above article and others on this site are not simple “informative notes”, they come as “look at china! tall building! rich people! fastEST train! fastEST computer!”. This, at least, seems like how you perceive it. As if it’s a good thing.

    In my opinion, this is all a temporary illusion just like in a stock bubble which happens every several years and will always happen as long as people will be people.

    I wish China the best and hope that its people will enjoy its success, truly I do. I’m just very concerned that this will not happen as the illusion grows deeper and deeper.


  7. The_Observer says:

    @Oh boy
    I’m not sure what illusion you are referring to. The computer and trains are not hot air. They are indeed fast and more importantly are being used.
    That supercomputer list wasn’t started by a Chinese but by a Western website of which the updated November list should be out soon. See:
    The list is updated twice a year and sometimes a computer can move up or down if it’s been upgraded or not.
    The Chinese put a lot of their own effort into developing the Tianhe-1A and came up with their own innovations. In addition, a well known computer publication has actually listed what the Chinese did themselves to make that current fastest computer. See:
    In summary, besides the Intel CPUs and the Nvidia GPUs, the system included a third chip, the FeiTeng-1000, an eight-core, Chinese-produced, Sparc-based processor that is used to operate service nodes, such as log-ins.
    It also included China’s own proprietary interconnect and what was most impressive was that they developed most of the software themselves. Even the OS was a Chinese adapted version of BSD called Kylin. And hoping to be even less dependent on Western technology the Chinese are currently developing their own main processors.

  8. The_Observer says:

    And praise was forthcoming for the Tianhe-1A from a German supercomputing expert. See:

  9. ajay says:

    Congrats to China for making super-toilets, super-highways, super-fast trains, and now super-super-computer. I read that China has made super cities modeled on European counterparts. India makes things after it is long due while Chinese make things 2-3 decades earlier. I think it is better to be prepared.

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