China Builds Supercomputer With Home-Grown Chips

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China has constructed an energy-efficient supercomputer using its own processor technology

China has constructed its first supercomputer using microprocessors designed and built within the country, a move designed to demonstrate China’s growing technological independence.

The system is also notable for its unusually low power consumption and a highly advanced cooling system.

Sunway BlueLight MPP

The system, called the Sunway BlueLight MPP, was installed at the National Supercomputer Centre in Jinan in September and was first shown to Western experts at a Jinan technical conference last week.

It uses a processor called the ShenWei SW1600, which includes 16 processor cores, according to Jack Dongarra, who is on the staff of the University of Tennessee and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, as well as being a leader of the Top500 project listing the world’s fastest supercomputers. Dongarra’s remarks were reported by the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal on Friday.

The chip technology is “a big deal” in that it demonstrates China’s competitiveness in the technical arena, Dongarra told the Wall Street Journal. The new chip is “a bit of a surprise”, he said in the New York Times report.

The system uses 8,700 of the SW1600 processors, which were designed at a Chinese computer institute and manufactured in Shanghai, according to Dongarra. It runs on a variant of the Linux operating system.

He said China is about three generations behind the chip design technology of industry leaders such as AMD and Intel.

The Sunway system has a theoretical peak performance of about 795 teraflops, or about 74 percent of the fastest US supercomputer, the Cray-built Jaguar system at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge facility. The Sunway system is likely to rank in the top 25 of the next Top500 list, due out this month, Dongarra said.

The Jaguar system is currently third on the list, with the top machine being a Japanese system called the K Computer, built by Fujitsu using Sparc chips.

Low power

The Sunway system is notable for its low power usage, which appears to be significantly more efficient than that found in other top-ranked supercomputers, according to Dongarra.

The Sunway BlueLight MPP reportedly consumes about one megawatt, compared to seven for the Jaguar. In other words, the Chinese system consumes has about one-seventh of the power needs of the Jaguar while delivering about three-quarters of its performance.

Experts at the conference also noted that the Sunway system has a water-cooling system that appears to be significantly more advanced than those found on the fastest Western supercomputers, and seems to be designed to scale far beyond what are currently the fastest machines using US technology.

China’s Tianhe-1A supercomputer – based on Nvidia chips – was briefly ranked at the top of the world’s fastest supercomputing list, before being displaced by Japan’s K Computer in June 2011. The Tianhe-1A was built using technology from Intel and Nvidia, although Chinese engineers created the system design.

The Tianhe-1A currently ranks second on the Top500 list, and China also has the No. 4 spot on the list with the Nebulae system in Shenzhen.

The top European system is France’s Tera-100, at No. 9, and the UK’s fastest system is the University of Edinburgh’s HECToR system, which uses Cray technology and ranks 24th on the list.

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