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China Knocks U.S. From Top Spot And Builds World’s Fastest Supercomputer Without U.S. Computer Chips

June 20, 2016

China revealed its latest, and most powerful, supercomputer on Monday. It is a monolithic system with 10.65 million computer cores built entirely with Chinese microprocessors. The reveal of this groundbreaking device comes approximately one year after the U.S. government made a decision to deny China access to Intel’s fastest microprocessors.


Now China holds the most of the top 500 supercomputers in the world and is also number one on this list for the first time – knocking the U.S. off the top spot. China has 167 systems on the June 2016 Top 500 list compared to 165 systems in the U.S. Just 10 years ago China had only 10 systems on the list.

The supercomputer, named the Sunway TaihuLight, far outperforms any U.S. built system. There is no U.S. built system that comes close to the power of the TaihjuLight.

The most significant aspect of this reveal is the origin of the TaihjuLight’s microprocessors. It uses ShenWei CPUs developed by Jiangnan Computing Research Lab in Wuxi. In the past China has relied heavily on U.S. microprocessors in building its supercomputing capacity.

These microprocessors show that the Chinese are moving away from reliance on U.S. parts and are attempting to become self-sufficient. It has been long known that China was developing the TaihjuLight system. However, it was believed that China would turn to U.S. chip technology to reach this performance level.

The Chinese hit a snare when the U.S. government unexpectedly banned Intel from supplying Xeon chips to four of China’s top supercomputing research centers. U.S. government officials initiated this ban because it claimed China was using its microprocessors for nuclear explosive testing activities. The U.S. ceased live nuclear testing operations in 1992 and was hoping to influence the Chinese to do the same. Unfortunately, Chinese officials misinterpreted the move as an attempt to  slow their supercomputing development efforts.

While it’s true the Chinese government is on pace to exceed the U.S. in supercomputing power the U.S. government hopes to regain their position as the leader in supercomputing technology by continuing to make advancements in the field, not by slowing the progress of other nations.

In July 2015, the White House issued an executive order creating a “national strategic computing initiative.” The goal of the initiative is to maintain an “economic leadership position” in high-performance computing research. It has long been known that China and countries in Europe want to decrease their dependency on U.S.-made chips. The U.S. is battling this by aiming to increase the power of U.S. supercomputers.

According to Jack Dongarra, a professor of computer science at the University of Tennessee and one of the academic leaders of the Top500 supercomputing list, this is the first time the U.S. has lost its lead in the total number of systems on the Top 500 list. China has 167 systems on the June 2016 Top 500 list compared to 165 systems in the U.S. Just 10 years ago China had only 10 systems on the list.

Many analysts argue that the writing on the wall shows that China has been striving to develop its own high-powered microprocessors for some time now. They state the U.S. chip ban didn’t slow the growth of China’s microprocessor program and instead accelerated it. The U.S. plans to increase China’s dependence on U.S. microprocessors with acts like the National strategic computing initiative. They aim to continue to build superior microprocessors. It appears competition with Chinese microprocessor developers has cause an acceleration in the American program in the same way the U.S. chip ban allegedly accelerated the Chinese program.