China’s new supercomputers: Sequel to “Communists in space”

China is really getting out there, in the engineering world.

Besides their recent advances in their space program, China has a supercomputer called Tianhe-1A (天河一号; pronounced “Tee en ha” and means Milky Way), which now holds the title as the world’s fastest supercomputer. It runs at 2.5 petaflops at its peak. Which is ridiculously fast:

  • Peta- is the prefix for 1024 tera.
  • Tera- is the prefix for 1024 giga.
  • Giga- is the prefix for 1024 mega.
  • Mega- is the prefix for 1024 kilo.
  • Kilo- is the prefix for 1024 of a unit.

That is 2.5*2^50 flops. Compare that to the fastest PC processor, which has a ‘theoretical peak performance’ of about 107 gigaflops, or 107*2^30 flops. 20 might not sound like much, but remember that those are orders of magnitude, not ‘times.’ That is, this super computer is not 20 times faster than the fastest pc. It’s millions and millions of times faster.

Tienhe-1A has over 7,000 graphics processors—which are usually faster than normal processors—and 14,000 Intel processors. An organisation called TOP500, which has been around since 1993, will rank the Tienhe-1A in November; right now it’s not technically ranked number one by TOP500.

But the supercomputer is already doing work for weather and drilling companies in China.

Don’t worry that China is going to conquer the world, just because they have the highest population, the largest army, a good space program and the fastest supercomputer. To be fair, the US has more than half of the supercomputers on the TOP500 list.

But it might be a good idea to learn Chinese if you’re going into business, because they are further securing their foothold as a world superpower. Which from a worldly perspective is really cool.


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