China Plans Supercomputer Using Its Own Chips

The Chinese have been climbing up the supercomputing staircase for some years; the country's upgraded Tianhe-I system is currently in the lead out of the TOP500. Despite Tianhe-I's success, it may be the last supercomputer China builds using both Intel and NVIDIA parts. (The Tianhe-I originally used 2,560 Radeon 4870 X2 cards, these were later swapped out for NV Tesla M2050 boards.) According to Hu Wei, lead designer at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the country's next TOP500 contender (the Dawning will run mostly, if not entirely, on Chinese-designed microprocessors.

Chinese developers have been working on their own CPU architecture for years; China has made no secret of the fact that it wants natively-designed hardware and software. This new processor (variously referred to as Godson, Loongson, or Dragon) is far behind AMD AMD and Intel—but it's evolving rapidly.

"Like a country’s industry cannot always depend on foreign steel and oil, China’s information industry needs its own CPU." said Hu Weiwu, the lead architect for Loongson microprocessors, to the People’s Daily newspaper. "It still needs another decade before China-made chips meet the needs of the domestic market. Hopefully after two decades, we will be able to sell our China-made CPUs to the US just like we are selling clothes and shoes."

The Tianhe-I, the world's fastest supercomputer. The Dawning 6000 is supposed to top it.

The next-generation 65nm Loongson processor that'll power the upcoming Dawning 6000 supercomputer will be based on the MIPS64 architecture and will offer four cores within a 10W envelope at first, expanding to an octal-core 20W flavor at some point in the future. One of the major differences between the upcoming Godson 3B is that it'll include an additional 200 specific instructions.

These have been designed to boost emulation performance via QEMU. Details are still scarce, but it's been reported that the Loongson runs x86 benchmarks 70 percent as fast as it executes native binaries.

We don't know much about current Godson 3B performance, but it'll be the supercomputer's infrastructure that'll ultimately determine whether or not the Dawning 6000 reaches the performance heights China is hoping for. It's no simple feat to create a low-latency intra-node network that's fast enough to leverage a supercomputer's capabilities. Hu Weiwu indicates that this is a current challenge, noting that Chinese supercomputers are already theoretically fast enough for the country's needs, but "still can't fully utilize them."

We may not see Godson on the mass market for another 20 years but Chinese manufacturers have already experimented with Godson-driven netbooks / mini-PCs. If Godson 3B debuts well we might see a few samples in a few years at CES or Computex. 

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