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How the World's Most Powerful Supercomputer Inched Toward the Exascale

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China's Sunway TaihuLight supercomputer.

China's Sunway TaihuLight supercomputer topped the June Top500 rankings as the world's most powerful supercomputer.

Credit: Jack Dongarra

China's Sunway TaihuLight in June topped the Top500 list as the world's most powerful supercomputer, capable of performing the Linpack Benchmark at a rate of 93 petaflops while consuming 2.4 megawatts less power than the previous record-holding system.

Such efficiency upgrades are required in the push toward exascale operation, and TaihuLight uses "lightweight" microprocessors that process data slower but produce less heat, allowing them to be packed more densely.

Although the system can theoretically crunch numbers at a rate of 125 petaflops, it reaches 74 percent of this peak theoretical capacity when running Linpack. However, according to the High Performance Conjugate Gradients benchmark, TaihuLight uses only 0.3 percent of its theoretical peak abilities.

"They produced a processor that can deliver high-arithmetic performance but is very weak in terms of data movement," says University of Tennessee professor Jack Dongarra, one of the organizers of the Top500. He notes the TaihuLight team has created applications that leverage the architecture, and three apps designed to run on the machine were finalists for this year's ACM Gordon Bell Prize.

University of Manchester professor John Goodacre says TaihuLight's design reduces the energy cost of shuttling data back and forth. "I think what they've done is build a machine that changes some of the design rules that people have assumed are part of the requirements" for migrating to the exascale, he says.

From IEEE Spectrum
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