China grabs top spot in Top500 list

The 36th edition of the Top500 list of the world's most powerful supercomputers has been published, with the top spot taken by the Chinese Tianhe-1A system at the National Supercomputer Center in Tianjin, achieving a performance level of 2.57 Pflops (quadrillions of calculations per second).

The former number one system - the Cray XT5 Jaguar system at the US Department of Energy's (DOE) Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility in Tennessee - drops to number two, achieving 1.75 Pflops running Linpack, the Top500 benchmark application.

Third place is now held by a Chinese system called Nebulae, which was also knocked down one spot from the June 2010 Top500 list. Located at the National Supercomputing Centre in Shenzhen, Nebulae performed at 1.27 Pflops.

Tsubame 2.0 at the Tokyo Institute of Technology is number four; having achieved a performance of 1.19 Pflops. Tsubame is the only Japanese machine in the top 10.

At number five is Hopper, a Cray XE6 system at DOE's National Energy Research Scientific Computing (NERSC) Center in California. Hopper just broke the Pflops barrier with 1.05 Pflops, making it the second most powerful system in the US and only the third US machine to achive Pflops performance.

Of the Top 10 systems, seven achieved performance at or above one Pflop. Five of the systems in the Top 10 are new to the list, while five are in the United States and the others are in China, Japan, France, and Germany. The most powerful system in Europe is a Bull system at the French CEA (Commissariat à l'énergie atomique et aux énergies alternatives or Atomic and Alternative Energies Commission), ranked at number six.

The two Chinese systems and Tsubame 2.0 are all using Nvidia GPUs (graphics processing units) to accelerate computation. In all, 17 systems on the Top500 use GPUs as accelerators, with six using the Cell processor, 10 of them using Nvidia chips and one using ATI Radeon chips.

China is also accelerating its move into high performance computing and now has 42 systems on the Top500 list, moving past Japan, France, Germany and the UK to become the number two country behind the US.

Although the US remains the leading consumer of HPC systems with 275 of the 500 systems, this number is down from 282 in June 2010. The European share – 124 systems, down from 144 — is still substantially larger than the Asian share (84 systems — up from 57). Dominant countries in Asia are China with 42 systems (up from 24), Japan with 26 systems (up from 18), and India with four systems (down from five).

In Europe, Germany and France caught up with the UK, which dropped from the No. 1 European nation from 38 six months ago to 24 on the newest list. Germany and France passed the UK and now have 26 and 25 systems each, although France is down from 29 and Germany is up 24 systems compared to six months ago.

Cray, the US firm which was long synonymous with supercomputing, has regained the number two spot in terms of market share measured in performance, moving ahead of HP, but still trailing IBM. Cray’s XT and XE systems remain very popular for big research customers, four of which are in the Top 10. HP is still ahead of Cray measured in the number of systems, and both are trailing IBM.

Intel dominates the high-end processor market, with 79.6 per cent (398) of all systems using Intel processors, although this is slightly down from six months ago (406 systems, 81.2 per cent). Intel is now followed by the AMD Opteron family with 57 systems (11.4 per cent), up from 47. The share of IBM Power processors is slowly declining with now 40 systems (8.0 per cent), down from 42. Quad-core processors are used in 73 per cent (365) of the systems, while 19 per cent (95 systems) are already using processors with six or more cores.

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