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​Chinese trifecta sweeps US aside in top supercomputer list

With a home-grown processor, the new Sunway TaihuLight triples the performance of the previous fastest machine.

The Sunway TaihuLight supercomputer performs 93 quadrillion calculations per second.

Jack Dongarra/Top500

The Chinese supercomputing industry claimed a triple victory Monday on the Top500 list of the world's fastest machines.

First, the new Sunway TaihuLight supercomputer took over the top spot, roughly tripling the performance of the previous record holder, another Chinese machine called Tianhe-2. Second, the Sunway TaihuLight uses home-grown Chinese processors, a major achievement considering the vast majority of supercomputers use chips from US-based Intel. And third, China edged past the US with the most machines installed -- 167 to 165.

Using more than 10 million processor cores, Sunway TaihuLight can perform 93 quadrillion mathematical calculations per second, a rate called 93 petaflops. Such colossal speeds are useful for tasks like nuclear weapons design, medical drug discovery and airplane aerodynamics simulation.

It's not easy to be king of the hill. The Sunway TaihuLight cost about $270 million to design and build, according to a paper (PDF) by Jack Dongarra, one of the supercomputing researchers who updates the Top500 list twice each year in conjunction with academic conference on the subject.

China has been ascendant for years in supercomputing. Despite the progress, though, the pace of supercomputing improvement has slowed in recent years because severe power consumption limits have curtailed processor speed improvements.