China's Tianhe-2 Supercomputer Takes No. 1 Ranking on TOP500 List

    11 August, 2013


    From VOA Learning English, this is the Technology Report.

    China's Tianhe-2 supercomputer has just been rated No. 1 on the top 500 -- a respected list of the world's most powerful computers. Experts measured the supercomputer's performance at 33.86 petaflop or quadrillion of operations per second.

    China's National University of Defense Technology developed the supercomputer, which runs twice as fast as the No. 2 rated Titan super computer. It belongs to the United States Government's Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. Both Tianhe-2 and Titan are part of an ongoing race to make supercomputers faster and more powerful.

    So what is a supercomputer? A basic personal computer has one microchip at the center of its operations. This Central Processing Unit, or CPU, executes a set of commands contained in a predesigned program.

    The first supercomputers had a few more CPUs. That number grew as microprocessors became cheaper and faster. Andrew Grimshaw, a computer science professor at the University of Virginia explains:

    "Today, supercomputers are all what we call parallel machines. Instead of one CPU - central processing unit - they have thousands and thousands. And in the case of the Chinese machine, depending on how you count, millions of the central processing units."

    These parallel machines are made up of many individual computers called nodes. They are all positioned in one block. They used a lot of power, create a lot of heat, and require huge cooling systems. They also use programs different from those used by ordinary computers.

    Professor Grimshaw says anyone with enough resources can build a super computer to solve problems that require millions of mathematical calculations.

    But that's not always necessary. A virtual supercomputer can be created by networking individual computers within a university campus or company. These machines then process data during down time, when no one is using them.

    "Those are very easy to run on virtual supercomputers because each problem is independent of all the others and I can scatter these jobs out all around the place. We run these all the time at UVA."

    Professor Grimshaw says that entire ten years ago, engineers worked on making computers faster. Since then, he says, they have worked to create more powerful parallel machines.

    "It's transforming science and engineering, and it's going to continue to transform it in ways I think most people don't fully grasp - how well we can model and simulate the world now."

    Professor Grimshaw says the increasing computing ability of supercomputers makes the future of research very bright.

    And that is the Technology Report from Learning English.