The official top 500 supercomputer list isn't out yet, but China is already declaring victory. A Chinese scientific research center has built what appears to be the fastest-ever supercomputer, edging out the United States.
The National University of Defense Technology (NUDT) unveiled the machine on Thursday. Tianhe-1A, as the machine is called, has 1.4 times the horsepower of the top supercomputer in the last ranking.
A single-day task for Tianhe might take a mainstream dual-core personal computer 160 years to complete -- if it worked nonstop. Tianhe, meaning Milky Way, is able to do more than one quadrillion calculations per second at its peak.
"I was shocked at the milestone breakthrough, which was beyond expectation," said Zhang Yunquan, a researcher with the Institute of Software of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and an organizer of the China Top 100 list. "I previously forecast China's first petaFLOP computer no earlier than the end of 2010."
An $88 Million Machine
NUDT president Zhang Yulin said the 155-ton system, with 103 refrigerator-like cabinets lined up on an area of about 1,000 square meters, is expected to process seismic data for oil exploration, conduct bio-medical computing, and help design aerospace vehicles.
China's national high-technology research and development program and the Binhai New Area, a major economic development zone in the northern port city of Tianjin, jointly financed Tianhe, which cost at least 600 million yuan, or $88.24 million.
Tianhe's peak performance reaches 1.206 petaFLOPS, and it runs at 563.1 TeraFLOPS on the Linpack benchmark, which was originally developed by U.S. computer scientist Jack Dongarra and has become an internationally recognized method to measure a supercomputer's real performance in practical use.
Future of Supercomputing
"It's a good day for China," said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT. "We'll see how well the system measures up when the top 500 list is released in a couple of weeks. It's not unusual for dark horses to slip under the wire to keep the market in the dark during the last days before the list comes out."
China's supercomputer reflects the flexibility and power of the x86 architecture, which has come to dominate supercomputing systems in the commercial and research space. King said it's also a big pat on the back to the ARM chip architecture, which has been making great strides. For ARM to play such a large role in such a well-publicized hybrid system will get the industry talking, King said.
"The first machine with ARM chip architecture to make the supercomputing list was the Roadrunner system, which leveraged AMD Operton and IBM PowerXCell chips," King said. "The idea of splitting the system into two different types of processors that can handle two distinct types of processing jobs, and then combining results, is a model that we are going to be seeing more and more of in the future in this space."