World’s Fastest Supercomputer Now Has Chinese Chip Technology

In a threat to U.S. technology dominance, the world’s fastest supercomputer is powered by Chinese-designed semiconductors for the first time. It’s a breakthrough for China’s attempts to reduce dependence on imported technology.

The Sunway TaihuLight supercomputer, located at the state-funded Chinese Supercomputing Center in Wuxi, Jiangsu province, is more than twice as powerful as the previous winner, according to TOP500, a research organization that compiles the rankings twice a year. The machine is powered by a SW26010 processor designed by Shanghai High Performance IC Design Center, TOP500 said Monday.

“It’s not based on an existing architecture. They built it themselves,” said Jack Dongarra, a professor at the University of Tennessee and creator of the measurement method used by TOP500. “This is a system that has Chinese processors.”

The new machine shows China’s determination to build its domestic chip industry and replace its dependence on imports that cost as much as oil. The world’s most populous country may also try to lessen its reliance on U.S. companies for defense technology and security infrastructure. Supercomputers aren’t major consumers of chips. But being at the heart of the world’s most powerful machines helps processor makers persuade the broader market to consider their technology.

“This is the first time that the Chinese have more systems than the U.S., so that, I think, is a striking accomplishment,” said Dongarra. The Chinese had no machines in the 2001 list, he noted. In the latest, China has 167 entries compared with 165 for the U.S.

Previous supercomputer winners have had processors built on U.S. technology from Intel Corp. — the world’s largest chipmaker — International Business Machines Corp. or a derivative of Sun Microsystems designs.

The top position was previously occupied by Tianhe-2, built on Intel chips by China’s National Supercomputer Center in Guangzhou. That system is now second, according to TOP500.

Sunway TaihuLight’s victory is a particular challenge to Intel’s dominance in computer servers, where it currently controls about 96 percent of the market. It announced a joint venture with a Chinese organization to domesticate some of its technology earlier this year.

Supercomputers are multiple server computers linked together in a way that allows them to process huge data sets and run the most complex calculations. While they’re hugely expensive and relatively rare, they showcase new technologies that often make their way into corporate data centers.

An Intel spokesman declined to comment on the new rankings.

Other chipmakers such as Qualcomm Inc. are working with Chinese organizations to build processors in the country. Technology provider ARM Holdings Plc, whose products are at the heart of most smartphones, is also trying to grab a slice of the Chinese market.


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