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China builds world's 7th fastest supercomputer
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Although missing the world's most extensive rankings for the best supercomputers, a Chinese-made high performance server rivals the 7th fastest for computing speed.

Dawning 5000A, with a capability of 160 trillions of computing operations per second, is signed to be installed in the Shanghai Supercomputer Center (SSC) which specializes in super computing outsourcing services for daunting jobs such as genome mapping, quake appraisal, precise weather forecast, mining survey and huge stock exchange data.

Nie Hua, vice president of Dawning Information Industry Co., said here Wednesday in an interview with Xinhua, "The delay in the delivery of AMD Barcelona quad-cores chips made us miss the latest rankings."

The International Supercomputing Conference released last week in Dresden, Germany, the latest competition results of the world's most powerful supercomputers, or TOP500.

The world's No. 1 system, "Roadrunner" which was built by IBM for the U.S. Department of Energy's Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), was so revolutionary that it exceeded the milestone of running one quadrillion computing operations a second, 5.4 times faster than that of Dawning 5000A.

While IBM "Roadrunner" was built for unspecified military applications, the Chinese fastest super system, covering a floor space of 75 square meters, focuses on commercial use. The vendor Dawning showcased its eye-catching performance of processing 36-hour weather forecast information on Beijing and vicinity within three minutes.

IBM occupied five slots of the top ten supercomputers. When comparing performance, Dawning 5000A followed the No. 6 IBM BlueGene/P system which has been installed in Germany at the Forschungszentrum Juelich (FZJ).

The scheduled completion of Dawning 5000A installation in the SSC in November might enable the system to compete the next world rankings in November.

Whether Dawning 5000A is able to remain among the top ten is questionable because of the swift development of the supercomputing industry. The FZJ IBM BlueGene/P, which computes 167.3 trillion times one second, was ranked the second in last November.

With an innovative energy-saving design, Dawning 5000A consumes 700 kilowatts per hour, beating most in TOP500 in average power efficiency except the well-known energy-efficient IBM BlueGene series.

The TOP500 list showed that 75 percent of the central processing units (CPUs) equipped in all the systems were from Intel while Dawning 5000A employed 6,600 AMD Barcelona quad-cores processors.

Previous industry analysis predicted Dawning might for the first time use the home-grown Godson chips in super servers, which breaks the hold of Intel and AMD in the high-end server CPU market. Godson chips were developed by a research team at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) Institute of Computing Technology (ICT), which also holds the Dawning Company.

Nie explained why Godson chips were not used: "Our client (the SSC) required the major functions of the system should be accomplished in Microsoft Windows operating system whereas Godson chips primarily run the competing Linux operating system."

"We do develop the Godson-driven prototype servers, but we have to satisfy our clients first," said Nie, who also hinted that manufacturing capability and actual roll-outs of Godson chips were not what he expected.

Nie, nevertheless, did not rule out the possibility of using Godson chips in the Dawning 5000 series in the future, saying its next supercomputer, currently coded as Dawning 5000L which will be installed by 2010 and have a similar computing performance to IBM "Roadrunner," is likely to be equipped with Godson CPUs.

As with many Chinese manufacturing products, Dawning supercomputers enjoy big cost advantages.

Even with expensive imported AMD chips, Dawning 5000A costs only 200 million yuan (29 million U.S. dollars), significantly lower than what the U.S. Department of Energy spent on IBM "Roadrunner," 100 million U.S. dollars.

Use of Chinese-made chips will further cut the cost for supercomputers, said Dr. Sun Ninghui, chief architect of the Dawning series.

Dawning is not a stranger to TOP500. A Dawning 4000A was ranked the tenth fastest in the world in June 2004.

Chinese computing scientists built in 1995 the country's first supercomputer, which only reached the major technical standards of what U.S. companies produced eight years before. China is now getting closer to the U.S. and is second in Asia, as Japan is losing ground.

The only system installed in Asia to secure a berth in the latest top ten is funded by India's TATA group in a lab in Pune, India. But the vendor of the eighth-ranked EKA system, Hewlett-Packard, is from the U.S.

(Xinhua News Agency June 26, 2008)

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