China now dominates a biannual ranking of the world’s 500 fastest supercomputers, called the Top500, which was published on Monday. The Chinese supercomputer is the world’s fastest machine for the seventh consecutive time, it has the largest number of computers among the top 500 — a first for any country other than the United States.
Also for the first time, the world’s fastest supercomputer uses Chinese-made microprocessor chips instead of chips from Silicon Valley’s Intel.
Supercomputers are viewed in scientific circles as an indicator of national technology leadership, and they are vital for research in areas ranging from the development of new weapons and medicines, to the design of cars and consumer products.
“Consumer detergent bottles are designed with supercomputers even today,” said Eric D. Isaacs, a physicist at the University of Chicago. “The Chinese are getting good at building these computers, and it’s a competitive issue now for U.S. industry and national security.”
The United States Government support for supercomputing has been slowed by long-running debates on the level of federal spending on basic scientific research, as well as opposition to funding for industrial innovation that is not directly related to national security.
Tech companies like Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Amazon invest billions of dollars in cloud-computing centers that don’t focus on solving scientific problems.
The sale of a number of advanced microprocessors to China was blocked by the US over concerns they were being used in nuclear weapon development, which most likely accelerated the development of China’s own technology, said Jack Dongarra, a University of Tennessee computer scientist.
The Top500 list is maintained by Dr. Dongarra and Erich Strohmaier, a physicist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Individual computing centers report descriptions and performance to them twice a year.
In 2001, there were no Chinese supercomputers on the Top500. Now, China has 167 systems on the list compared to 165 from the United States. The fastest machine, The Sunway TaihuLight System, was installed this year at the National Supercomputing Center in Wuxi, in China’s Jiangsu province.
The Obama administration started to develop a so-called “exascale” supercomputer that would be 10 times faster than today’s fastest supercomputers last year. (An exaflop is a quintillion — one million trillion — mathematical instructions a second.) Computer scientists have argued that such machines will allow more definitive answers on crucial questions such as the danger posed by climate change.
Despite the fact that the Chinese now have the most supercomputers on the list, the United States still dominates the top 20, with 10 machines. There are now 105 supercomputers in Europe. Japan has 29 systems on the list, down from 37 systems in November.