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China’s Supercomputer Tianhe-2 Reigns Supreme

By Ryan Wallace staff@sciencetimes.com | Nov 18, 2014 04:01 AM EST

While the U.S. and the E.U may lead the pack in many sectors of technological advancements, and the concept of smart cities, it's China's supercomputers that continue to reign supreme. Commemorating the opening day of the SC14 Supercomputing Show in New Orleans, Monday Nov. 17, a team of researchers from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the University of Tennessee and German tech company Prometeus issued the 2014 list of the top 500 most powerful computing systems in the world. And though the race was close this year, China's massive Tianhe-2 supercomputer topped the list at No.1, for the fourth time in a row.

But researchers are saying that the performance growth is seeing a slowing trend in recent years, where top competitors aren't improving by vast margins as they once before did. In fact, since the last list was released, the top 10 fastest supercomputers maintained their ranks, with only the no. 10 spot changing hands. According to the team compiling the list, over the past five years, the performance growth rate of the competitors has slowed by roughly 55 percent than what it was from previous studies spanning 1994 to 2008. And organizers say that even top competitors "exhibit a noticeable slowdown in growth, compared to the previous long-term trend."

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It's a stiff competition, where nations around the world are vying for supremacy, but researchers believe that the top spot won't likely change hands again until we see a large shift in the technology, expected to be delivered in 2017 when two new U.S. supercomputers will replace the number two and number three spots.

Just before the debut of the list, last Friday Nov. 14, the U.S. Department of Energy awarded $325 million to IBM, Nvidia and Mellanox Technologies to build two new supercomputers, expected to be run five to seven times faster than current systems in place. And they're likely to be the game-changers researchers are waiting for.

Replacing the world's second fastest supercomputer, Titan, at the Oak Ridge National Lab will be the "Summit" system. And replacing the number three spot, Sequoia, at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab will be the new "Sierra" system. And IBM officials says that both will have peak performances of more than 100 petaflops, a staggering 182 percent faster than Tianhe-2.

"Summit [and Sierra] will break new ground and bring new understanding to many areas of science and engineering such as combustion science, nuclear power, biofuels, fusion energy, climate change, solar energy, energy storage, and catalysis, to name a few" official Jim Hack from Oak Ridge National Laboratory says. "High-performance computing has become a key part of technology advancement and scientific discovery, [and] Summit will allow us to continue in this mission through the end of the decade."

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