|The Tianhe-2 supercomputer is now the fastest in the world.|
A new supercomputer, Tianhe-2, was just named fastest in the world by TOP500, surprising the computing world after being delivered two years ahead of schedule by China's National University of Defence Technology.
The newly-built Tianhe-2 — which is Mandarin for Milky Way-2 — reached a sustained computing speed of 33.86 quadrillion 'floating-point operations per second', or 33.85 petaflops, nearly double the speed of Titan — the U.S. Department of Energy's supercomputer that sustained a speed of 17.59 petaflops to come out as #1 on last November's TOP500 list. Tianhe-2 achieved this remarkable speed by linking together over 3 million Intel computing cores (Titan only used around 560,000).
For a little perspective, a standard home computer or laptop typically runs at gigaflops speeds, or roughly a million times slower than Tianhe-2, whereas a really good home computer, or the new Sony Playstation 4, can get up into the low teraflops speeds, which is still about 10,000 times slower than this new supercomputer.
Tianhe-2's predecessor, Tianhe-1, took TOP500's top spot back in November of 2010, at a speed of 2.56 petaflops, but it was beat out by Japan's K computer in the next two competitions, and it's been the Americans on top since then, with Sequoia (currently in 3rd) and then Titan (now in 2nd place).
Supercomputers have been in use for years, to run simulations of things like weather and the atmosphere, nuclear explosions, the interactions of atoms and molecules, the formation, movement and structure of galaxies, supernovas and even black holes — all of which involve an incredible number of objects and forces all interacting with each other at the same time. Without a supercomputer, trying to run these models and simulations would be pointless, as even if you could break the simulation down into smaller chunks for the computer to handle one at a time, it would take years to get a result, and it's doubtful that the result would even be useful (or make sense). The very large number of operations per second that these computers can perform allows them to assign one operation to each object or force, run them all at the same time, and generate a result quickly.
Tianhe-2 is destined for the National Supercomputer Center in Guangzho by the end of this year, two years ahead of the expected release, showing just how far China's technology sector has been advancing lately.
The next TOP500 list will be coming out in November of this year, so it remains to be seen if the rest of the computing world can come up with something to dethrone Tainhe-2. Whoever the winner of the next competition will be, or the ones after that, it's really a win for all of us. Not only do these computers help bring about advances in weather forecasting and climate modeling, but also breakthroughs in medicine, engineering and technology that can end up benefiting everyone.