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Supercomputer in China super fast: U.S. computers feel inadequate

By Melissa Bell
The Earth Simulator supercomputer was the fastest computer in the world in 2002. It's a slowpoke compared with the Tianhe-1A. (Chiaki Tsukumo/AP)

They own all sorts of credit lines with the world. They make our light bulbs. Both the Republicans and the Democrats are pretty sure they'll take us over by 2030.

And now, China may have the world's fastest supercomputer.

On Thursday, China unveiled the Tianhe-1A, out-powering the previous supercomputer record holder, the Cray XT5 Jaguar, by computing at 2.5-petaflops, a rate 43 percent higher than the Jaguar.

The computer is "another sign of the country's growing technological prowess that is likely to set off alarms about U.S. competitiveness and national security," Don Clark at the Wall Street Journal writes.

Here's what Mashable has to say about it:

Tianhe-1A was designed by the National University of Defense Technology (NUDT) in China, and it is already fully operational. To achieve the new performance record, Tianhe-1A uses 7,168 Nvidia Tesla M2050 GPUs and 14,336 Intel Xeon CPUs. It cost $88 million; its 103 cabinets weigh 155 tons, and the entire system consumes 4.04 megawatts of electricity.

To put that in Luddite speak: The computer is fast. Really, really fast.

A petaflop is the measure of one thousand trillion operations per second or (ops). Most consumer computers are lucky to get a few billion operations per second.

In computing, speed is of the utmost importance. Most supercomputers are used for the toughest scientific problems, such as simulating drug products and designing weapons.

The computer, though constructed in China, still uses materials sourced from Intel and Nvidia, two California-based companies. One major shift in the computer's construction is its use of Nvidia chips -- the graphic chips are more commonly found in video games instead of computers.

Although some see the release of the computer as an affront to the U.S. lead in computing, others see it as a "wake-up call," as Jack Dongarra, a supercomputer expert told the Wall Street Journal, similar to when Japan released the Earth Simulator supercomputer in 2002. It took the U.S. two years to regain the crown.

Plus, there could be more surprises in store. The Top 500 list of supercomputers around the world has yet to be announced. A computer faster than the Tianhe could be unveiled before the list is released in two weeks.

By Melissa Bell  | October 28, 2010; 9:28 AM ET
Categories:  The Daily Catch  
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Don't worry. The Tea Party will tell us that provided we return to "God", reduces taxes, get rid of government, it will be all right. It doesn't matter to them that we are left behind in science, technological prowess, and living standards, so long as we are so-called "free", we'd be content...

Posted by: wavelet | October 28, 2010 10:00 AM | Report abuse

Honestly the super computers coming out are actually unimpressive from an engineering standpoint. The speeds are certainly impressive but basically the bottom line these days is simply the number of processors you can assemble and make work in concert... That was impressive the first few times but now it is technically boring. Now take that computing power and put it in a desktop PC sized box and I will be massively impressed.

Posted by: rcc_2000 | October 28, 2010 10:02 AM | Report abuse

People need to calm down. America still manufactures the best BS artists/losers in the world. If the U.S. government lower the value of its currency enough, it could export those BS artists/losers.

Posted by: Maersk | October 28, 2010 10:23 AM | Report abuse

"Most supercomputers are used for the toughest scientific problems, such as simulating drug products and designing weapons."

It used to be (or still is?) weather modeling and cryptanalysis

Posted by: GWGOLDB | October 28, 2010 10:40 AM | Report abuse

….as the Chinese will still make our chips and assemble our computers, thanks to the unAmerican companies, we will never surpass them. By making our chips, the Chinese already know the stage we are at, and they will first copy the chip and then improve it.
But when president Obama wanted to end the activities of these un-American companies, the hypocrite right-wing Republicans opposed the initiative because it would affect the profits of their financiers decreasing their contributions to the Republican coffers.
Benedict Arnold is alive and well in the Republican party.

Posted by: analyst72 | October 28, 2010 10:41 AM | Report abuse


You construct a supercomputer because you have an use for it, not for having the "crown". The only people who will see an "affront" in that are either childish and immature idiots with a rather misplaced ego or some sales people wanting you to buy another computer from them...

Posted by: Sensi23 | October 28, 2010 10:43 AM | Report abuse

Thanks wavelet-
But remember its not the Tea Party that wants to cut back on technology and education. It was OBAMA that cut and is cutting things like NASA's budget against popular protest.

But thanks for playing!!

Posted by: jabberwolff | October 28, 2010 10:47 AM | Report abuse

The Tea Party is not for cutting technology or education in technology. They just dont want subsidies for hand picked industries that can justify there own expense. However, the Tea Party was against cuts to NASA but OBAMA did cut that budget anyway - against popular voice against cuts.

Posted by: jabberwolff | October 28, 2010 10:52 AM | Report abuse

Poster Maersk is right on, our leaders have learned that they cannot impress the world with intelligence, so they cover them up with B/S.

Posted by: dv1236 | October 28, 2010 10:52 AM | Report abuse

@ jabberwolff

The NASA budget wasn't cut in any way, Time to have your "facts" straight...

Posted by: Sensi23 | October 28, 2010 11:03 AM | Report abuse

It's Obama's fault. He promised us flying cars.

Posted by: Whys | October 28, 2010 11:18 AM | Report abuse

It's Obama's fault. He promised us flying cars.

Posted by: Whys | October 28, 2010 11:18 AM | Report abuse

analyst72- The fastest chips are still made in Silicone Valley. They assemble everything else in China. Why? OVERREGULATION! High minimum wages, high cost of business taxes, environmental restrictions, unions, and many other factors imposed by our government. Profit IS American (you know a system base on CAPITOLISM, not socialism as you are pushing for). Did you know companies in China get taxed 3% (yes that is .03%) buy their government. You complain that we send everything over there, and you blame it on the people who fought those overregulation measures YOUR party imposed. Try getting the log out of your eye before pointing out the spec in others.

Fastest computer? LOL I bet our government has a few secret computers that will calculate circles around it. They just aren’t after the feather in their cap.

Posted by: thatavkguy | October 28, 2010 11:42 AM | Report abuse

So, how fast can they crash the Dow Jones with landslides of HF trades? Many have turned to gold, I prefer shotguns.

Posted by: BluePelican | October 28, 2010 11:45 AM | Report abuse

My trusty 8088 will run circles around that Chinese crap. Of course in my world only. LOL

14,336 Intel Xeon CPUs all probably quads so it may be pretty fast for those guys over there, but I'm sure when the list comes out, the US has a smoking system. :)

Posted by: NativeNProud | October 28, 2010 12:07 PM | Report abuse

thatavkguy ,"Did you know companies in China get taxed 3% (yes that is .03%) buy their government? " , China is Communist genius ! "Over regulation is the problem ". Wrong again , do have one single clue as to what caused the economic melt down ? Greed and Deregulation caused it as it caused the Savings and loans disaster years ago , no rules , no governing or oversight and letting them police themselves which is like pulling the police out of LA and saying OK , we trust you , police yourselves ! Or like telling Al Capone and the Italian mob , OK we are doing away with the FBI and the cops , we trust you to do the right thing and police yourselves ! Same damned difference pea brain . We are getting burned with these free trade agreements , we are not enforcing the rules , we are not protecting America's interests and country's like China are getting away with murder . We are not enforcing the rules and protecting America's interests because the Corporations and the Chamber of Commerce do not want us to ,they have no loyalty to this country or it's people , none ! They are doing just fine making fortunes over seas , their markets are over seas as is their labor force ,they don't even need the USA , the USA market or it's people / work force anymore . The Republicans and the Corporations they work for as well as Wall Street simply do not give one damn about this country , it's all about the money and profits at any cost , where they make those profits and what country or peoples benefit or suffer is irrelevant to them and these traitors are making Chine the most powerful and wealthiest country in the world while at the same time turning the USA into a third world country . We were the wealthiest most powerful country in the world , but thanks to Reagan and deregulation and this free market insanity we are the biggest debtor nation in the world and we are becoming weaker by the year . We make nothing anymore , we operate on borrowed money , they have gutted this country of what made it strong and powerful , the middle class and a heavy manufacturing base all in the name of more money for the fat cats and the corporations . You are a fascist is what you are and apparently a plutocracy is what you want . Look up those two words , I seriously doubt you even know what they mean .

Posted by: Koom | October 28, 2010 12:11 PM | Report abuse

Oct. 22 news item: "According to the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, China-ASEAN bilateral trade in the first nine months of 2010 jumped 44 percent year on year to 211.3 billion U.S. dollars"

Do NOT be concerned. Keep massacring civilians in Pakistan and Afghanistan while making triumphalist noises about "winning". Do NOT look at that man behind the curtain. He's busy using his supercomputer for its most important purpose: to count all the money he's making - not only in Southeast Asia, but around the world - while America ratchets up its debt by the trillion after trillion so that some Pakistani family can be wiped out by a predator drone courageously unmanned by our non-uniformed CIA agents in Nevada.

It would be interesting if I could live another 50 years to read the history of the United States. Then again, the only word I would be able to recognize is sieh-sieh.

Posted by: bloggersvilleusa | October 28, 2010 12:14 PM | Report abuse

"Fastest computer? LOL I bet our government has a few secret computers that will calculate circles around it. They just aren’t after the feather in their cap. "

True dat. But they probably won't be general purpose supers. Likely as not they will be special purpose processors. Turning these out to eke out the highest performance for specific tasks still turns out to be the best way to get critical jobs done. General purpose super computers can be used "to model" and create said special purpose processor and also to do other tasks ... more efficient when they can be used by multiple applications and programmers simultaneously. That's the other gotcha. What software does it run? How easy is it to achieve peak performance and parallelism? How "user friendly" is the environment?

Posted by: periculum | October 28, 2010 12:30 PM | Report abuse

There is an unreported dimension to the Chinese success story. The brightest students out of a population of 1.4 billion have flowed into their high tech workforce, they have assembled the greatest concentration of brain power in world history. A Chinese workforce of 200 million nerds has demanded the right to become masters of a new world order, but the mentally challenged, confused, and disenfranchised will not go down in defeat, the final battle will be between brawn and brainpower.

Posted by: morristhewise | October 28, 2010 3:16 PM | Report abuse

How many minimum wage jobs are involved in supercomputing? At what stage does the work they do effect the product end cost? Unions ARE driving up labor cost to the point business is taking their business overseas. We get killed by the unions and by big business. Voting for either one is a losing proposition. Labor rates must come down in order to compete for the business. Business must be taxed or tariffed if they get an advantage by going overseas. We are competing against other business's and other countries. We need to figure out how to compete against both. Business will make money with Indian, Vietnamese, Korean or Mexican labor. The American worker suffers. Force American business to hire comparably waged Americans for jobs, or make them lose all perks for overseas production.

Posted by: 1bmffwb | October 28, 2010 3:18 PM | Report abuse

The Tea Party crowd sure looks smarter than the ACORN crowd!!! People who worked and are trying to protect their retirement sure seem more capable than people bussed in from government social programs. People who want to retain the constitution and its freedoms sure seem more reasonable than radicals who bombed police stations and now want tenure at colleges. There are a few bad eggs in every batch, but some of those liberal eggs are proven, confessed murderers. Bill Ayers etc..

Posted by: 1bmffwb | October 28, 2010 3:24 PM | Report abuse

Ha! China will take us over in 2030. Where have you been,China took over the U.S. Years ago. Walmart was the first to fall. Then Stanley tools,Craftsman tools of Sears,I could go on but whats the use.The Republicans will give China the Keys to the White House in 2012. They already have the keys to the Senate.

Posted by: Leo10 | October 28, 2010 5:32 PM | Report abuse

"more reasonable than radicals who bombed police stations and now want tenure at colleges".


Seriously, "1bmffwb"?
Ayers? Still?

Your messiah beck is keeping you focused on 1960s anti-war activities while training you to vote Red so the taxes on his $34mil a year don't go up.


Posted by: lquarton | October 28, 2010 9:55 PM | Report abuse

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