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October 30, 2009

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Homegrown e-brain among speediest computers

CHINA'S National University of Defense Technology yesterday unveiled the country's fastest supercomputer - and one of the world's most powerful electronic brains.

The supercomputer, called Tianhe is theoretically able to complete more than 1 quadrillion calculations per second (one petaflop) at peak speed.

A task that would take Tianhe a day to finish might take a typical personal computer 160 years to complete.

NUDT President Zhang Yulin said the 155-ton system, comprising 103 refrigerator-like cabinets lined up in an area measuring 1,000 square meters, is expected to process seismic data for oil exploration, conduct biomedical calculations and help design aerospace vehicles.

The 600 million yuan (US$88 million) cost of Tianhe was financed by the national high-technology research and development organization and the Binhai New Area, a major economic development zone in the northern port city of Tianjin.

Zhang said Tianhe's technical data have been submitted to the world's top-500 computing list. The next list will be released in November.

Tianhe would have taken fourth place on the most recent ranking in June if it had been running at that time. Tianhe beat Shanghai's Magic Cube to take the top spot in China. The new machine is five times faster than the one in Shanghai, which ranked No. 10 among the world's fastest computers in June.

"I was shocked at the breakthrough, which was beyond expectations," said Zhang Yunquan, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Software and an organizer of the China Top 100 list, which was released at a conference on high-performance computers yesterday.

"I previously forecast China's first petaflop computer no earlier than the end of 2010," Zhang said.

The giant device, a product of 200 computer scientists and two years of work, is housed on the NUDT campus in Changsha, Hunan Province, and will be moved to the National Supercomputing Center in Tianjin at the end of 2009.

Equipped with 6,144 Intel central processing units and 5,120 AMD graphic processing units, Tianhe is able to store all 27 million books in the National Library of China four times over, said Zhou Xingming, a CAS academician and a NUDT professor.

"As far as I know, the combination of CPUs and GPU is something new in making a petaflop computer," Zhou said. "A GPU plays a role as an accelerator to make the computer run faster and also reduces its power consumption and cost," Zhou explained.

"After it is installed in Tianjin, we plan to add hundreds or thousands of China-made CPUs to the machine and improve its performance," he said.


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