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The World's Top Supercomputer Is Where? Yup. Still China.

China's Tianhe-2 is starting its third straight year as the supercomputing world's heavyweight champ.

Top500 List

In case Donald Trump needs another thing to add to the list of how America isn’t “great” anymore, here’s one: Supercomputing muscle.

Since 2013, China’s Tianhe-2 machine has held the No. 1 title on the list of the world’s 500 most powerful known supercomputers and it has secured its position again.

The machine, whose name means “Milky Way,” is capable of 33.86 quadrillion floating point operations, or flops, in a single second. (Quadrillions comes after trillions; a flop is a kind of math problem that involves fractions.) It was built at China’s National University of Defense Technology.

That makes it roughly twice as powerful as the second-most powerful machine on the list, Titan, which is operated by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Lab and which held the world title back in 2012.

No. 3 is also an American system running at Lawrence Livermore National Lab. It’s called Sequoia and a few years back it too was a world champ.

There are only two new systems among the top 10 on the list from July. A Department of Energy system called Trinity debuted on the list in sixth place, while a German machine called Hazel Hen came in at No. 8.

Though many hail from other regions, many of them are actually comprised of American-made technology: Chips from Intel, Advanced Micro Devices, Nvidia and others. And most of them were built by American companies including Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Cray, Dell and others. (Some were built by IBM too, but that portion of Big Blue’s business was recently sold to China’s Lenovo. It’s complicated.)

Even that world champion machine in China is chock full of American chips. It has 16,000 individual computing nodes, and each one of those has two Intel Xeon chips plus an additional three Intel-made Xeon Phi chips. In fact, Intel supplied chips for 445 of the machines on the list, making it probably the supercomputing champ of the world. The other champ was Cray, whose machines accounted for a combined 25 percent of the computing horsepower of the entire list, beating IBM and HPE.

All told, the U.S. dominated the list with 201 of the 500 systems. (Yay!) But? That number is down from 233 systems six months ago (Boo!) and is the lowest number since the list has been maintained (Double boo!). And China is catching up. It has 109 systems on the list, which is 39 more than it had as recently as six months ago, and surpassed the 107 supercomputers in Europe.

And while China may still hold the computing crown, its title isn’t secure. The U.S. Department of Energy has at least two new systems on the drawing board. One of them is called Summit and it stands a pretty good chance of bringing the title back to the States. When it comes online sometime in 2017, it will supposedly be about nine times more powerful than Tianhe-2, reaching about 309 petaflops. If it hits that mark — and there’s every reason to expect it will — this single machine would be more powerful than the top 350 machines on the current list combined.

This is the 46th edition of the Top500 list, which has been compiled by researchers in the U.S. and Germany since the summer of 1993.

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