A Chinese supercomputer is ranked the world’s second-fastest machine in a list issued by U.S. and European researchers, highlighting China’s ambitions to become a global technology center.

Named Tianhe-1 (meaning River in Sky), the Nebulae system at the National Supercomputing Centre in Shenzhen in southern China came in behind the U.S. Department of Energy’s Jaguar in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, according to the list released this week.

Supercomputers are used for complex work such as modeling weather systems, simulating nuclear explosions and designing jetliners.

The highlighted Beijing’s efforts to join the United States, Europe and Japan in the global technology elite and its sharp increases in research spending, driven by booming economic growth.

It also reflected China’s continued reliance on Western know-how: Nebulae was built by China’s Dawning Information Industry Ltd. but uses processors from Intel Corp. and Nvidia Corp., both American companies.

The Nebulae is capable of sustained computing of 1.271 petaflops — or 1,271 trillion calculations — per second, according to TOP500. It said the Jaguar was capable of sustained computing of 1.75 petaflops.

The Chinese computer ranked first in theoretical computing speed at 2.98 petaflops, the group said. The list was compiled by Hans Meuer of the University of Mannheim, Germany; Erich Strohmaier and Horst Simon of NERSC/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Jack Dongarra of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

The communist Beijing government wants China to evolve from a low-cost factory into an prosperous "innovation society." A 15-year government plan issued in 2006 promises support for areas ranging from computers to lasers to genetics.

Boosted by Nebulae’s performance, China rose to No. 2 overall on the TOP500 list with 24 of the 500 systems on the list and 9.2 percent of global supercomputing capacity, up from 21 systems six months ago.

The United States held onto its overall lead with 282 of the 500 systems and 55.4 percent of installed performance.

Europe had 144 systems on the list, including 38 in Britain, 29 in France and 24 in Germany.

Elsewhere in Asia, Japan had 18 supercomputers on the list, up from 16 six months ago, and India had five.

A second Chinese computer also made the Top 10. The Tianhe-1 at the National Super Computer Center in the eastern city of Tianjin, at No. 7, uses processors made by Intel and Advanced Micro Devices Inc., another American company.

The list also reflected breakneck advances in supercomputing speeds.

No. 1 on the June 2008 list was the Roadrunner system at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, capable of 1.04 petaflops, or about two-thirds of Jaguar’s level. In the latest list, Roadrunner dropped to No. 3.

Report highlights

Highlights from the report with changes from the November 2009 edition:

• The entry level to the list moved up to the 24.7 teraflop/s mark on the Linpack benchmark from 20 teraflop/s six months ago. The last system on the newest list would have been listed at position 357 in the previous TOP500 just six months ago. This replacement rate was far below average. This might reflect the impact of the recession and purchase delays due to anticipation of new products with six or more core processor technologies replacing current quad-core based systems.

• Quad-core processor based systems have saturated the TOP500 with now 425 systems using them. However, processor with six or more cores per processor can already be found in 25 systems.

• A total of 408 systems (81.6 percent) are now using Intel processors. This is slightly up from six months ago (402 systems, 80.4 percent). Intel continues to provide the processors for the largest share of TOP500 systems. The AMD Opteron is the second most common used processor family with 47 systems (9.4 percent), up from 42. They are followed by the IBM Power processors with 42 systems (8.4 percent), down from 52.

• IBM and Hewlett-Packard continue to sell the bulk of systems at all performance levels of the TOP500. HP lost its narrow lead in systems to IBM and has now 185 systems (37 percent) compared to IBM with 198 systems (39.8 percent). HP had 210 systems (42 percent) six months ago, compared to IBM with 186 systems (37.2 percent). In the system category, Cray, SGI, and Dell follow with 4.2 percent, 3.4 percent and 3.4 percent respectively.

• IBM remains the clear leader in the TOP500 list in performance with 33.6 percent of installed total performance (down from 35.1 percent), compared to HP with 20.4 percent (down from 23 percent). In the performance category, the manufacturers with more than 5 percent are: Cray (14.8 percent of performance) and SGI (6.6 percent), each of which benefits from large systems in the TOP10.

• The U.S. is clearly the leading consumer of HPC [high performance computing] systems with 282 of the 500 systems (up from 277). The European share (144 systems – down from 152) is still substantially larger then the Asian share (57 systems – up from 51). In Europe, UK remains the No. 1 with 38 systems (45 six months ago). France passed Germany and has now 29 (up from 26). Germany is still now the No. 3 spot with 24 systems (27 six months ago). Dominant countries in Asia are China with 24 systems (up from 21), Japan with 18 systems (up from 16), and India with 5 systems (up from 3).

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