At 2.507 petaflops, Tianhe-1A is 1.4 times faster than U.S. Cray XT5 Jaguar

China has overtaken the U.S. as home of the world's fastest supercomputer. Tianhe-1A, named in honour of the Milky Way, is capable of sustained computing of 2.507 petaflops — equivalent to 2,507 trillion calculations each second.

The U.S. scientist who maintains the international rankings visited it last week and said he believed it was 1.4 times faster than the former number one, the Cray XT5 Jaguar in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. That topped the list in June with a rate of 1.75 petaflops.

The U.S. is home to more than half of the world's top 500 supercomputers. China had 24 in the last list, but has pumped billions into developing its computational ability in recent years.

The machines are used for everything from modelling climate change and studying the beginnings of the universe to assisting aeroplane design.

Housed in the northern port city of Tianjin, near Beijing, Tianhe-1A was developed by the National University of Defence Technology. The system was built from thousands of chips made by U.S. firms — Intel and Nvidia — but domestic researchers developed the networking technology that allows information to be exchanged between servers at extraordinary speeds.

Tianjin's weather bureau and the National Offshore Oil Corporation data centre are already using it for trial projects. “It can also serve the animation industry and bio-medical research,” Liu Guangming, director of the National Centre for Supercomputing, told China Daily.

Tianhe-1A was in seventh place in the last rankings. Its domestic rival Nebulae, housed in Shenzhen, was at that time ranked second, capable of sustained computing of 1.271 petaflops.

The next set of rankings is due next week, but Jack Dongarra, the University of Tennessee computer scientist who oversees them, told the New York Times that Tianhe-1 “blows away the existing number one”.

Wu-chun Feng, a supercomputing expert and professor at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, told the newspaper: “What is scary about this is that the U.S. dominance in high-performance computing is at risk. One could argue that this hits the foundation of our economic future.” — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010

More In: International | News