China Ditches Home-Grown Chips in New Supercomputer

By Michael Feldman

June 25, 2008

The Xinhua News Agency reported earlier today that a Chinese-built Dawning 5000A supercomputer will be installed at the Shanghai Supercomputer Center (SSC) in November. The system will reportedly be used for commercial and research apps: weather forecasting, earthquake prediction, genomics, and stock trading analysis. At 160 teraflops, it will be the most powerful supercomputer in China.

The machine incorporates 6,600 quad-core Opteron processors and uses 700 kilowatts per hour. No additional information was provided about memory capacity, interconnect type, external storage, or any other system features.

According to Dawning Vice President Nie Hua, AMD’s delayed introduction of the quad-core Opterons pushed the 5000A deployment into the second half of 2008, causing them to miss a June TOP500 ranking. At 160 teraflops, it would have been a top 10 system, giving Dawning and the Chinese some much sought-after supercomputing prestige. The highest ranking Chinese system on the June list is a 38 teraflops super at the Sinopec Shengli Oilfield Branch Company. China’s last highly ranked system was an 11.3 teraflop Dawning 4000A supercomputer, which attained the number 10 slot on the June 2004 TOP500.

The original design for the 5000A called for China’s Loongson 3 processor, but apparently the lack of Windows support for the CPU nixed that design. The SSC customer required that “major functions of the system should be accomplished in Microsoft Windows operating system.” Hmm… no Linux?  Strange.

The 64-bit Loongson processors (also known as Godson), are based on the MIPS architecture, and have similar low-power attributes. The latest generation Loongson 2F, a 90nm 1 GHz processor, reportedly draws about 5 watts. Loongson 3, the CPU initially slated for the 5000A, was to have either 4 or 16 cores and clock in at 1.0-1.2 GHz, but information about this processor is sketchy.

The Xinhua report hinted that problems in Loongson processor production might have been another factor that contributed to the switch to the quad Opterons. Cost might have come into play as well, although the state-run Xinhua News Agency extolled the low-cost virtues of using home-grown chips. The Opteron-equipped 5000A headed for SSC is said to have cost $29 million.

Nie Hua claimed the next-generation Dawning 5000L series will be capable of petaflop performance, and this system will likely be equipped with Loongson CPUs. The plan is to get the petaflop system up and running by 2010.

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