The world’s two fastest supercomputers are now American, according to the rankings that are released biannually. The two computers, Summit and Sierra, both use IBM technology.
Summit was crowned the world’s fastest computer back in June when it performed the mathematical test LINPACK at 122.3 petaflops per second. (Each petaflop is one quintillion math operations.) Since then, it’s received more upgrades, and it can now perform the test at 143.5 petaflops per second, giving it a huge lead over the other 499 supercomputers on the list.
Meanwhile, Sierra trails behind Summit with 1.6 million processor cores to Summit’s 2.4 million. Other than that, both supercomputers run on similar specs: IBM Power9 processors with Nvidia Tesla V100 accelerator chips. Still, despite having fewer processor cores, Sierra was able to edge a Chinese computer, the Sunway TaihuLight, off the list through a recent upgrade that boosted its computing power from 71.6 petaflops to 94.6 petaflops.
The US government has invested in the supercomputers arms race, recently pouring $258 million in 2017 into funding companies like IBM, Cray, AMD, Intel, and Nvidia to build computers that can perform these incredible feats of calculation. The supercomputers can be used to forecast climate change, look into a cure for cancer, and research nuclear fusion, among other tasks.
Overall, five of the top 10 supercomputers are American, two are Chinese, and Switzerland, Japan, and Germany each have one. The top 500 supercomputers use a litany of chips: Intel mainly supplies the processors, while Nvidia provides accelerator chips that are made similarly to its GPUs.