China flexes supercomputing muscle in Top 500 rankings

China's Nebulae system takes the second spot in the biannual list

China flexed its computing muscle with a supercomputer called Nebulae, rocketing to second place on the biannual Top500 list, which ranks the most powerful computers in the world.

The new supercomputer, which was made by Dawning and installed at China's National Supercomputing Center in Shenzhen, combines Nvidia graphics processors and Intel Xeon CPUs to provide 1.27 petaflops of performance. However, it could not top the Jaguar supercomputer at the U.S. Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which held on to the top spot in the Top500 list with 1.76 petaflops of performance

The list was published on Monday at the International Supercomputing Conference 2010 conference in Hamburg, Germany. The list is published twice a year by Top500.org.

Nebulae is only the third supercomputer to break the petaflop performance barrier. It combines Nvidia's Tesla C2050 graphics processors with Intel's Xeon X5650 quad-core processor, which runs at 2.66GHz. Nebulae has a theoretical peak capability of almost 3 petaflops, which would be the highest ever for a supercomputer, according to Top500.org. That performance would beat Jaguar, which has a theoretical peak speed of 2.3 petaflops. The Jaguar is a Cray XT5-HE system and includes Advanced Micro Devices' six-core Opteron processors running at 2.6GHz.

There is growing interest in servers that use graphics processors along with CPUs. GPUs are specialized co-processors that are faster than traditional CPUs at executing certain tasks, such as those used in scientific and computing applications. Some institutions have already announced plans to deploy more GPUs in an effort to get more performance out of servers.

The Tokyo Institute of Technology last week said it was building a supercomputer designed by Hewlett-Packard and NEC called Tsubame 2.0 that will combine Intel's latest server chips with Nvidia's GPUs to deliver 2.4 petaflops of performance.

IBM's Roadrunner supercomputer at the Los Alamos National Laboratory was a casualty of Nebulae's rise, dropping from second to third on the list. Roadrunner combines dual-core AMD Opteron CPUs and IBM's Cell processors, and provides more than a petaflop of performance.

Another Cray XT5-HE system at the National Institute for Computational Sciences at the University of Tennessee is in the latest fourth spot, followed by IBM's Jugene - Blue Gene/P Solution in Germany.

Twenty-four supercomputers on the list are now in China, tying the country with Germany at fourth place behind the U.S., the U.K. and France. The U.S. maintained its dominance with 282 out of 500 supercomputers. China secured second in total system performance, ahead of European countries, but still behind the U.S.

Another top 10 system in China is the Tianhe-1 supercomputer at the National Supercomputing Center in Tianjin, in the seventh spot. It combines Intel's Xeon with AMD's ATI Radeon graphics processors.

IBM had four systems in the top 10 and a total of 198 systems on the list, gaining ground at the expense of HP, which led the list six months ago. HP had 185 systems, dropping from 210 systems in the previous list. IBM also led HP in total supercomputer system performance by a substantial margin.

However, IBM's Power microprocessors lost ground to Intel and AMD. Systems based on Power fell to 42, compared to 52 six months ago. A total of 408 systems -- about 81.6 percent -- used Intel processors, while AMD's Opteron processors were in 47 systems, up from 42 in the previous list. Quad-core processors were used in 425 systems, and six-core processors were used in 25 systems.

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Agam Shah

IDG News Service
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