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China’s supercomputer still the fastest, but the U.S. is catching up

When it comes to fast computers, you might think your gaming PC is pretty slick, but the fastest supercomputers in the world will steal your CPU’s lunch money and leave your head spinning without even turning their fans on. Twice a year, TOP500 measures the fastest supercomputers in the world against each other on the Linpack benchmark. This time around it was found that China’s National University of Defense Technology cluster, which has the catch name Tianhe-2 (which means Milky Way in English) is the fastest system for the fifth time in a row.

At 33.86 petaflop per second, Tianhe-2 comes out well above the second place machine’s score of 17.59 petaflops per second. The second place machine, Titan, is a Cray XK7 located at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The Titan may have been second in speed, but it’s one of the most power-efficient machines in the top 10.

Related: IBM takes one small step for quantum mechanics, one giant leap for computing.

While most of the systems that make the list were built in 2011 or 2012, and are mostly located in China, Japan, the United States, and Europe, a Middle Eastern system broke the top 10 for the first time ever. The Shaheen II is a Cray XC40 at King Abdullah’s University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia, and was only built recently.

While United States has the most overall supercomputers at 233, its lead is starting to dwindle, and may be heading for the lowest numbers seen in 45 tests. The need for supercomputers seems to be slowing, with downwards trends in a few of the most prolific countries for that type of system. The TOP500 list started as a research exercise in 1993, but is now used as an indicator for the state of supercomputing worldwide.