This photo dated Dec 22, 2016 shows Sunway TaihuLight, one of the world's fastest machines. Performing 93 quadrillion calculations per second, Sunway TaihuLight dethroned China's Tianhe-2 from the top in a list of the 500 most powerful supercomputers in the world. (Li Xiang / Xinhua)
WASHINGTON - China's Sunway TaihuLight and Tianhe-2 are still the world's fastest and second fastest machines, but America's Titan was squeezed into fourth place by an upgraded Swiss system, according to the latest edition of the semiannual TOP 500 list of supercomputers released Monday.
It highlights China's ability to conduct independent research in the supercomputing field
deputy director of the National Supercomputing Center
Sunway TaihuLight, described by the TOP 500 list as "far and away the most powerful number-cruncher on the planet," maintained the lead since last June, when it dethroned Tianhe-2, the former champion for the previous three consecutive years.
It means that a Chinese supercomputer has topped the rankings maintained by researchers in the United States and Germany for nine times in a row.
What's more, Sunway TaihuLight, with a performance of 93 petaflops, was built entirely using processors designed and made in China.
"It highlights China's ability to conduct independent research in the supercomputing field," Haohuan Fu, deputy director of the National Supercomputing Center, where Sunway TaihuLight was installed, told Xinhua.
"China is simultaneously developing hardware and software technologies of supercomputers," Fu said. "It is expected that rapid development in homegrown hardware technologies, supported by homegrown software, will lead to a stronger research and engineering test capacity in many fields, thus promoting an industrial upgrading and, eventually, a sustainable development of China's homegrown supercomputing industry."
Tianhe-2, capable of performing 33.9 petaflops, was based on Intel chips, something banned by the US government from selling to four supercomputing institutions in China since 2015.
In the latest rankings, the new number three supercomputer is the upgraded Piz Daint, a system installed at the Swiss National Supercomputing Center.
Its current performance of 19.6 petaflops pushed Titan, a machine installed at the US Oak Ridge National Laboratory, into fourth place. Titan's performance of 17.6 petaflops has remained constant since it was installed in 2012.
"This is the second time in the 24-year history of the TOP 500 list that the US has failed to secure any of the top three positions," the TOP 500 organizers said in a statement.
The only other time this occurred was in November 1996, when three Japanese systems captured the top three spots.
"Nevertheless, the US still claims five of the top 10 supercomputers, which is more than any other nation," they said.
Fu called the upgraded Swiss system "really a surprise," saying that "it reflects the increased investment in large-scale supercomputers in Europe."
"Although the US dropped out of the top three, it still has strong strength in high performance computing," Fu told Xinhua. "If everything goes well, we could see two US systems with a performance of 200 to 300 petaflops in the next rankings at the end of the year."
Just days before the TOP 500 announcement, the US Department of Energy said it has awarded AMD, Cray, HP Enterprise, IBM, Intel and NVIDIA a total of 258 million US dollars in funding to accelerate the development of next-generation supercomputers.
"Continued US leadership in high performance computing is essential to our security, prosperity, and economic competitiveness as a nation," US Secretary of Energy Rick Perry said in a recent statement.
The immediate goal of the US is to develop at least one exascale-capable system by 2021, which will be at least 10 times faster than China's Sunway TaihuLight.
"Global competition for this technological dominance is fierce," the US Department of Energy asserted. "However, the US retains global leadership in the actual application of high performance computing to national security, industry, and science."