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Homemade CPUs on the way for local supercomputers
Published on: 2011-03-07
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BEIJING - By the end of 2011 China-made supercomputers will bid farewell to foreign microchips and start using their own "Chinese core", according to one of the country's leading scientists, Hu Weiwu.

National People's Congress Deputy Hu Weiwu, who is the chief developer of the Loongson series of microchips at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), told reporters on Saturday that the "Dawning 6000" supercomputer, jointly developed by the Institute of Computing Technology of CAS and the Dawning Information Industry Company (DIIC), will adopt Loongson microchips for the first time as its core component. It will have a computing speed of more than 1,000 trillion operations a second.
"Our information industry was using foreign technology. However, just like a country's industry cannot always depend on foreign steel and oil, China's information industry needs its own CPU (central processing unit)," Hu said.

The supercomputer developed by CAS and DIIC is scheduled to be available as early as this summer. Making supercomputers with Chinese microchips is one of the nation's major science and technology projects. Three organizations - the Institute of Computing Technology of CAS, Jiangnan Institute of Computing Technology and the National University of Defense Technology (NUDT) - have their own supercomputer projects.

According to their schedules, all three institutions will need to meet the target of using domestically developed microchips by the end of this year.

Hu said the new supercomputer will use fewer than 10,000 Loongson microchips, and will also be more energy-efficient.

Tianhe-1A, developed by NUDT in Hunan's provincial capital Changsha, is the fastest supercomputer in the world. However, Tianhe-1A largely runs on 14,336 CPUs made by Intel, and 7,186 GPUs (graphics processing units) from Nvidia, two US chip-makers.

Hu said there will be difficulties ahead as there are few applications developed for these supercomputers. "We have enough supercomputers in China but still can't fully utilize them," He said.

Supercomputers can be used on national defense projects as well as scientific projects in geology, meteorology and medicine. Due to the lack of software engineers for supercomputers, there are few applications available in China.

"There are lots of scientific questions waiting for answers from supercomputer simulation and calculation.

But we still need good algorithm and good data collection to make it work," Hu explained. "Each year the electricity bill could cost more than 10 million yuan ($1.5 million) for one supercomputer, and we are only using one tenth of its capacity at most," Hu said.

Hu added that although the China-made CPUs have improved since they were first produced in 2002, they have a long way to go to compete with US chip-makers such as Intel.

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," Hu said.

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