US supercomputers trail machines in Japan, China

Japan's K Computer raises the bar, with a Linpack speed faster than U.S. machines being developed.

The United States hosts five of the world’s 10 fastest supercomputers and has plans for building even faster machines. But for now, the nation is still looking up at Japan and China.

Japan’s K Computer, at the RIKEN Advanced Institute for Computational Science (AICS) in Kobe, Japan, tops Top500.org’s latest list of fastest machines, scoring 10.51 petaflops — or 10.51 quadrillion calculations per second — on the Linpack benchmark.

Built with 705,024 Sparc64 processing cores, the K Computer scored more than four times higher that the second fastest on the list, China’s Tianhe-1A system, which scored with 2.57 petaflops. The K Computer, which unlike a lot of recently built supercomputers doesn’t use graphics processors or other accelerators, also is among the most energy-efficient computers on the list, Top500.org said.

The fastest supercomputer in the United States, Jaguar, a Cray XT5 system at the Energy Department’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, is third with a score of 1.75 petaflops.

In February 2011, Energy announced plans to build a 10-petaflop supercomputer at its Argonne National Laboratory. Nicknamed Mira and built by IBM, it is expected to be operation in 2012.

When Energy announced plans for Mira, China’s Tianhe-1A was at the top of the list and Energy expected that its new machine would be the world’s fastest by a comfortable margin. But that was before Japan raised the stakes with the K Computer. Even if Mira hits 10 petaflops it would still fall short of the top spot.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is developing extremely efficient supercomputers, and Energy has plans for exascale systems that would take supercomputing to the next level. But for the moment, U.S. systems have to take a back seat.

After Jaguar, the rest of the 10 fastest computers on the latest list are:

4. A Dawning TC3600 Blade System at China’s National Supercomputing Centre in Shenzhen.

5. An HP ProLiant SL390s system at the Tokyo Institute of Technology’s GSIC Center.

6. Cielo, a Cray XE6 at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

7. An SGI Altix machine at NASA’s Ames Research Center.

8. Hopper, a Cray XE6 at the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center.

9. A Bull bullx super-node S6010/S6030 at France’s Commissariat a l'Energie Atomique.

10. Roadrunner, an IBM system (and first to break the petaflop/s barrier) at Los Alamos.

Those rankings were unchanged from the previous edition of the biannual list. In fact, Top500.org said it was the first time since the ranking began in 1993 that the order of the fastest machines had remained the same.

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