China builds supercomputer from domestic chips

China has created its first large supercomputer based on Chinese processors, a move that illustrates how the country is attempting to wean its supercomputers from depending on Western company's chips.The Sunway BlueLight MPP, announced earlier in the week at a technical meeting in Jinan, China, was detailed by the New York Times on Friday.

China has created its first large supercomputer based on Chinese processors, a move that illustrates how the country is attempting to wean its supercomputers from depending on Western company's chips.

The Sunway BlueLight MPP, announced earlier in the week at a technical meeting in Jinan, China, was detailed by the New York Times on Friday. It contains 8,700 ShenWei SW1600 processors and is capable of a petaflop of processing, which should rank it in the top fifteen most powerful supercomputers in the world according to the Top 500 list.

"This is a bit of a surprise," Jack Dongarra, leader of the Top500 project, told the NYT.

The computer is power-efficient, consuming a megawatt of power when running, compared to seven megawatts for the US's fastest computer, Jaguar, which is capable of 1.7 petaflops. This is partly due to an advanced water cooling system.

Official details are scarce, though slides surfaced on Chinese IT news site IT168.com which gave more detail and were translated by Hung-Sheng Tsao, founder of HopBit GridComputing, on his blog.

According to the slides, which appear to be from a presentation describing the computer's capabilities, the ShenWei Sunway BlueLight MPP has 150TB of main storage and 2PB of external storage. Each ShenWei SW1600 processor is 64-bit, has 16-cores and is RISC-based.

China's grand plan

The announcement is an important move in the country's plan to create a computer capable of an exaflop by 2020. One of the main challenges to exascale computing is power efficiency, according to Intel. The Sunway BlueLight MPP's cooling methodology may go some steps towards solving the power problem.

Furthermore, the use of domestic chips fit within the country's plan to reduce its reliance on Western companies' technology. Though China’s most powerful supercomputer, the Tianhe-1A computer, used 2,048 Chinese-developed FT1000 processors it got the bulk of its performance from 7,168 Nvidia Tesla GPUs and 14,336 Intel CPUs.

China may have another supercomputer in development that uses domestic processors. In March the state owned People's Daily Online reported that the country was hoping to build a petaflop supercomputer by the end of 2011 based on its Loongson processors.

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