Made in China: The Fastest Computer in the World

In the northern port city of Tianjin, China, a formidably powerful machine sits. It's the Tianhe-1A. Today, it was named the fastest supercomputer in the world.

The Tianhe-1 can perform 2,507 petaflops per second. It has 1.4 times the horsepower of the United States' fastest machine, the U.S. Department of Energy's Cray XT5 Jaguar in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, according to Jack Dongarra, a University of Tennessee computer scientist. Dongarra, who maintains the official list of the fastest computers in the world, is confident that the Tianhe-1A will come in first place for the upcoming rankings.

"We don't close the books until Nov. 1, but I would say it is unlikely we will see a system that is faster," Dongarra told the New York Times.

But not everyone's impressed by the new technology.

Steven J. Wallach, a well-known computer designer, played down the importance of taking the top spot on the supercomputer rankings.

"It's interesting, but it's like getting to the four-minute mile," Mr. Wallach said. "The world didn't stop. This is just a snapshot in time."

The research labs often spend weeks tuning their systems to perform well on the standard horsepower test. But just because a system can hammer through trillions of calculations per second does not mean it will do well on the specialized jobs that researchers want to use it for, Mr. Wallach added.

The United States has plans in place to make much faster machines out of proprietary components and to advance the software used by these systems so that they are easy for researchers to use. But those computers remain years away, and for now, China is king.

"They want to show they are No. 1 in the world, no matter what it is," Mr. Wallach said. "I don't blame them."

Read the full story at the New York Times.

Presented by

Elizabeth Weingarten is an editorial assistant at the New America Foundation. A former Slate editorial assistant, she also previously wrote for and produced the Atlantic's International Channel.

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