Surprise... China's Getting Busy

China has built a supercomputer using homegrown chips, an unexpected announcement this past week that showcases the country's determination toward lessening its dependence on foreign-grown CPUs. According to an article in the New York Times this Friday, the Sunway BlueLight MPP supercomputer resides in the National Supercomputer Center in eastern China. Installed this past September, the system houses a total of 8,700 ShenWei SW1600 processors that feature 16 cores apiece. Combined with an advanced water-cooling system the specific details of which are currently unknown the supercomputer is expected to reach a total processing power of around one petaflop. But more importantly, it can allegedly do so using only a megawatt of power.

While the system's specs are likely enough to place it in the top-20 ranking of the world's fastest supercomputers, the Sunway BlueLight MPP's power draw is raising a few more eyebrows. For starters, it's all of one-fourth that of China's previous chart-topping supercomputer, the Tianhe-1A. Debuted last year, the 2.5-petaflop Tianhe-1A the world's fastest supercomputer at the time of its unveiling ate up 4.04 megawatts of power. And the system itself was built on chips from both Intel and Nvidia, a far contrast from China's current CPU load-out in the Sunway BlueLight MPP.

China's new system is but one more volley in the ongoing international race to hit an exaflop, or one thousand petaflops, at some point within the next decade. To do so, however, will likely require a massive energy output right now, approximately the same amount of power as that which is generated by a medium-sized nuclear power plant, said the New York Times' John Markoff.

That's what makes the combination of power-savings, cooling, and petaflop performance so intriguing at the moment, as it's the key formula that the world's various supercomputer manufacturers will need to master in order to reach their exaflop targets representing a thousand trillion calculations per second, we note. China's goal is to be able to deploy an exaflop-class system, using China-built chips, by 2020. The U.S. is hoping to reach an exaflop by 2019 through upgrades to its Jaguar soon-to-be "Titan" supercomputer, and Europe expects to reach its exaflop goal within a similar timeframe.

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