China Has the World's Fastest Supercomputer (And It's 2x Fast as Ours)S

Watson may have been able to trounce a pair of Jeopardy champs, but it can't hold a candle to the new king of number crunching, the 3.12 million-core Tianhe-2.

Built by China's National University of Defense Technology at the National Supercomputer Center in Guangzho, the Tianhe-2 supercomputer runs on a proprietary Linux build. The system is powered by 32,000 Xeon processors, themselves augmented by 48,000 Xeon Phi accelerators and a petabyte of memory to sustain its 33.86 petaflop (quadrillion mathematical calculations per second) performance.

That's double, double, what the last year's top-ranked (by the semi-annual Top 500) supercomputer, the 17.59 petaflop Titan at Oak Ridge National Labs can do. But the race to hit a Quintrillion calculations a second, an exoflop, is just heating up. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's deputy director, Horst Simon, believes that the exaflop barrier could be broken by the end of the decade, assuming researchers can figure out how to power the process. The Tianhe-2 consumes 17.8 megawatts currently and as Horst explains:

The increasing trend in power efficiency, though it might look like a gradual slope over time, is really a one-time gain that came from switching to accelerator/manycore [architectures] in 2010. This is not a sustainable trend in the absence of other new technology. There is no more magic — we're maxed out. Right now, the most efficient system needs 1 to 2 megawatts per petaflops. Multiply that by 1,000 to get to exascale and the power is simply unaffordable.

Perhaps most impressive is the amount of indigenous hardware employed in the machine. Outside of the Intel processors, "The interconnect, operating system, front-end processors, and software are mainly Chinese," said Top500 editor Jack Dongarra. We'll have to wait until December, however, to see if the Tianhe-2 can hold onto its crown in an increasingly crowded field. [Top 500 - CNet - Image: Top 500]