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Backgrounder: What are supercomputers?

Xinhua | Updated: 2017-06-19 15:32
BEIJING - The latest edition of the semiannual T0P500 list of supercomputers showed on Monday that China's Sunway TaihuLight and Tianhe-2 are still the world's fastest and second fastest machines, but America's Titan was squeezed into the fourth place by an upgraded Swiss system.

The following are a brief introduction of and some key facts about the supercomputers:

A supercomputer is a computer that has a much higher processing capacity, particularly a much higher speed of calculation, compared to a general-purpose computer.

With a huge memory capacity and tremendous processing speed, supercomputers is capable of doing huge processing of data, including scientific, engineering analysis and military applications.
They are used for a wide range of complex works such as weather forecasting, nuclear explosions simulation, jetliners design, oil and gas exploration and molecular modeling.

The processing speeds of a supercomputer are measured in floating point operations per second, or "flops."

The history of supercomputing can be traced back to the early 1920s in the United States with the IBM tabulators at Columbia University and a series of computers at Control Data Corporation (CDC), designed by Seymour Cray to use innovative designs and parallelism to achieve superior computational peak performance.

The CDC 6600, released in 1964, is generally considered the first supercomputer.

While the supercomputers of the 1970s and the 1980s used only a few processors, in the 1990s, machines with thousands of processors began to appear and, by the end of the 20th century, massively parallel supercomputers with tens of thousands of off-the-shelf processors were the norm.

As of June 2017, the fastest supercomputer in the world is the Sunway TaihuLight, in China, with a LINPACK benchmark score of 93 quadrillion calculations per second (otherwise known as petaflops). It tops the rankings in the TOP500 supercomputer list.

Sunway TaihuLight's emergence is also notable for its use of indigenous chips, and is the first Chinese computer to enter the TOP500 list without using hardware from the United States.
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