Mid-range models ring the changes in Top500 supercomputer ranking

There were no new entrants in the top 10 places of the Top500 list, but plenty of action down below, as power efficiency and GPU adoption drive supercomputer development

With no change at the top of the latest Top500.org supercomputer list, you need to look further down the rankings to see the real story.

Top500.org published the 49th edition of its twice-yearly supercomputer league table on Monday, and once again the Chinese computers 93-petaflop Sunway TaihuLight and 33.9-petaflop Tianhe 2 lead the pack.

An upgrade has doubled the performance of Switzerland's GPU-based Piz Daint to 19.6 petaflops (19.6 quadrillion floating-point operations per second), boosting it from eighth to third place and nudging five other computers down a place. The top U.S. computer, Titan, is now in fourth.

That's it for changes to the top 10, though, and if you stopped reading there, you might think supercomputer makers had fallen asleep.

But "mid-range" supercomputers are still getting more powerful.

Since November last year, 108 of them have leapt into the rankings ahead of the Chinese computer in 500th place, a 432-teraflop machine built by Sugon in 2015 using Intel Xeon processors. It was in 392nd place last November, and entered the rankings a year earlier in 213th place.

Those mid-range computers aren't just getting more powerful, they're also getting more power-efficient.

The Top500 compilers only have power consumption information for 369 of the computers on the list. Nine of the 10 most efficient were built this year, six of them in Japan.

The best at converting watts into flops was Japan's Tsubame 3.0. Built by Hewlett Packard Enterprise, it uses a mix of Intel Xeon CPUs and Nvidia Tesla P100 GPUs to deliver 14.1 gigaflops/watt. Its overall performance of 1.9 petaflops was enough to put it straight into the rankings in 61st place.

The Cray-built Piz Daint isn't far behind in terms of efficiency: it delivers 10.4 gigaflops/watt, also using a mix of Intel Xeons and Nvidia Tesla P100s.

Coprocessors are gaining ground in the Top500, with 71 systems using Nvidia GPUs, 14 using Xeon Phi, and three using both.

HPE has built more of the Top500 supercomputers than any other manufacturer, with a 28.6 percent share, up from 28 percent a year ago. Its constructions aren't among the most powerful, though: they only make up 16.6 percent of the Top500's computing capacity.

Cray and IBM are disproportionately represented at the top end of the chart, having built 11.4 percent and 5.4 percent of the machines, respectively, but delivering 21.4 percent and 7.5 percent of the computing power.

To put those figures into perspective, 12.5 percent of the Top500's computing capacity comes from a single machine, Sunway TaihuLight, built by China’s National Research Center of Parallel Computer Engineering & Technology (NRCPC).

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Peter Sayer

Peter Sayer

IDG News Service
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