Ten years ago, a ranking of the world’s 500 most powerful supercomputers included precisely three entries from China. The most powerful of these — a system used to run credit management software at the Agricultural Bank of China — was ranked number 150.
How times have changed.
The latest version of the Top500 list — published on Monday by the group of high performance computing enthusiasts who maintain it — contains 73 Chinese computers, including the second-most-powerful supercomputer in the world, the Tianhe 1-A.
That’s the best showing for any country, save the U.S.
“There is a systematic effort from the Chinese, in at least the last five years, to make inroads in high performance computing,” says Erich Strohmaier, a senior scientist with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. “The number of systems is steadily increasing; the complexity of the systems is increasing.”
That could have big repercussions for the U.S. microprocessor industry, whose products have traditionally dominated the list.
China took the world by surprise last month when it unveiled a supercomputer based on a previously unknown, home-grown, microprocessor, called the ShenWei SW1600. That system, called the Sunway BlueLight MPP supercomputer, is now ranked number 14.
The Sunway BlueLight can perform one quadrillion mathematical calculations per second (1 petaflop). That seems like a lot, until you consider that the top-ranked computer on the Top500 list, Japan’s K Computer, is ten times as powerful, and the first computer ever to break the 10 petaflop barrier.