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Is China a Supercomputer Threat? (Q&A)


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Jack Dongarra

Jack Dongarra, a professor at University of Tennessee's department of electrical engineering. China's supercomputer is a 'wake-up call.'

University of Tennessee

With China expected to officially take the supercomputer performance crown next month, I asked an expert about the state of supercomputing in the U.S. and whether China poses a long-term threat to the United States' current preeminence in supercomputing.

Nvidia announced last week that its chips are powering the "Tianhe-1A" Chinese supercomputer that achieved 2.507 petaflops, beating a U.S.-based system that is currently ranked No. 1 on the June Top500 list of the fastest supercomputers in the world. The Chinese system is a unique hybrid design that uses approximately 7,000 Nvidia graphics chips along with 14,000 Intel Xeon CPUs. The graphics chips are what give the system the extra oomph to catapult it into the top supercomputer spot.

I spoke with Jack Dongarra, university distinguished professor at University of Tennessee's Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and part of a group from the University of Tennessee, Oak Ridge National Laboratories, and Georgia Tech that recently purchased a hybrid system. It is important to note that Oak Ridge houses the supercomputer, dubbed "Jaguar," that is currently ranked No. 1 in the world based on the Top500 June list: it is not a hybrid system.

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