World’s fastest supercomputer is in Japan

With eight quadrillion computations per second (Petaflops), the “K Computer” system from Fujitsu has vaulted to the head of the pack with more than three times the power of the previous champion.

The new “Top 500” list is notable for at least one thing: there isn’t a single computer in the top 10 working at less than a Petaflop. Germany was among the nations sliding out of the top ten. The “Jugene” system at IBM’s Juelich research centre tops out at 825 Teraflops (trillion computations per second), moving it from ninth to 12th place.

Super computers are used for extremely computation-heavy modelling by researchers and for military applications like developing and simulating atom bombs.

For scientists, for example, supercomputers are essential for researching the complex structures and properties of proteins. Gigantic volumes of data are analyzed in the process. Climate researchers are also increasingly reliant on supercomputers to try to predict changing weather patterns and potential earthquakes.

Japan’s “Earth Simulator” from NEC held the crown for an extended period until it was finally deposed in 2004 by a computer intended for climate calculations. The new “K Computer” is located in Kobe, and it’s intended for use by the RIKEN Institute for Physical and Chemical Research.

It brings together more than 80,000 CPUs, each with eight cores. Unlike other recent title contenders, the “K Computer” has no graphic chips or other graphics accelerators. Graphics chips (GPUs) can also handle a large volume of simple computational tasks, thereby boosting the overall performance.

Foregoing the GPUs has a different benefit, though: the “K Computer” is one of the most energy-efficient systems on the list. Besides, more complex calculations require proper computer chips (CPUs).

The former number one, the “Tianhe-1A” (Milky Way) computer in the northern Chinese city of Tianjin, and its 2.56 Petaflop performance is still good enough for second place. “Jaguar” from supercomputing specialists Cray is number three, with its 1.75 Petaflops, busy at work at the US Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Rank four (1.27 Petaflops) and five (1.19 Petaflops) are held by systems in China and Japan respectively.

The US was long the dominant player in this expensive technology. For long stretches it far and away ruled the top ten list. Japan and China, with two systems each in the top 10, have certainly taken major strides to catch up, although five American systems are still among the top 10.

The “Top 500” list of the world’s fastest supercomputers is published twice annually prior to the International Supercomputing Conference (ISC). The ISC rotates venues between the US and Germany.

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World’s fastest supercomputer is in Japan