China's Tianhe-2 supercomputer is fastest in the world

Last week, a new Chinese supercomputer officially took the title as the world's most powerful computing system. The title was previously held by the US Department of Energy's Titan supercomputer, based at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

According to TOP500, a grouping of the most powerful supercomputers in the world, the Tianhe-2 can perform at up to 33.86 petaflops per second, far exceeding the second runner-up at 17.59 petaflops per second.

The new supercomputer is not only noteworthy for its processing power, but also in the fact that it is almost entirely sourced from components fabricated domestically in China. The only US-made parts inside the Tianhe-2 are the Intel chips that comprise its 3-million processor cores. According to some predictions, it's only a matter of time before China begins producing those in-house as well.

"The Tianhe-2 is using processors from Intel, but think of the processor as a motor and they are building a racecar. They can easily swap out the motor for one of their own," Jack Dongarra, a professor at the University of Tennessee and Oak Ridge National Lab, another supercomputing center told the New York Times in an e-mail. "Most features of the system were developed in China."

The Chinese supercomputer runs a Linux variant developed by the country's National University of Defense Technology. Much of its hardware was created specifically for the Tainhe-2.  The machine is a testament to China's resolve to become the world's preeminent technological superpower. Just in 2001, the country didn't have a single computer on the TOP500 list.

"The most important thing about this system is that it not only has a top performance, it also has a substantial investment in technology," said Jack Dongarra, a computer science professor with the University of Tennessee in an interview with Wired.

While the Tianhe-2 certainly holds bragging right's for world' fastest supercomputer, it's worth noting that the TOP500 list does not include supercomputers that are classified by the government. It's still quite likely that the fastest computing system in the world is in the NSA's basement.

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