SAN JOSE, Calif. — China has passed the U.S. for the first time to lead the world in the number and total performance of supercomputers, according to the latest Top 500 list. Two China server makers — Inspur and Sugon — were the only systems vendors to show significant gains in the latest rankings.

China now has 201 supercomputers on the Top 500, its largest showing to date, compared to 145 for the U.S., it’s all time low. China also leads with 35.3 percent of the total performance of systems on the Top 500 compared to 29.8 percent for the U.S. in second place.

The U.S. maintained its traditional lead in the rankings published six months ago with 169 systems compared to 160 for China. The two countries are far ahead of the pack with third ranked Japan at 35 systems followed by Germany with 20.

China’s rise has been a long time coming but the U.S. is poised for a resurgence next year, said Jack Dongarra, one of the editors of the list and a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the University of Tennessee.

“China has been building up and developing its supercomputers over the last 15 years or so. In 2001, it had zero systems on the list,” Dongarra said in an email exchange.

“They are developing and replacing Western technology with China-manufactured systems. It’s a big market. Of course, IBM’s sale of its server business to Lenovo contributed to this trend,” he added.

Today, China has three systems in development in a race to create the world’s first exascale computer by 2020. It is expected to beat the U.S. Pathforward program, which targets an exascale system by 2021.

However, next year the U.S. Department of Energy’s labs are expected to deploy systems on the way to its exascale goal that will surpass anything on the current Top 500, Dogarra said. Thus, the U.S. will leapfrog China sometime next year, at least for the single largest system, but China will jump ahead again, probably in 2020.

“The current No. 1 system, China’s Sunway TaihuLight, has a peak of an eighth of an exaflop. With the next generation of their processors they could hit exascale with new technology and expanding the size of the current system a little,” Dongarra said.

China continues to have the top two systems in the current rankings at 93 and 33.86 petaflops. The U.S. has four systems in the top 10, taking the fifth through eighth spots with performance of 17.59 to 14 petaflops as measured by the Linpack benchmark.

However, Linpack has long been seen as a limited, and somewhat inflated synthetic benchmark that only estimates performance on real workloads.  This year the Top 500 editors also began reporting performance using the High-Performance Conjugate Gradient benchmark to provide a more balanced view.

Linpack tests the speed of a system solving an array of linear algebra equations. HPCG uses a variety of calculations including sparse matrix multiplication, global collectives and vector updates which Top 500 editors said more closely represent typical supercomputing tasks.

Using the HPCG benchmark, Fujitsu’s K computer, currently ranked number 10, was the most powerful system, hitting 602.7 teraflops. It was closely followed by the current second-ranked system, Tianhe-2, with 580.0 tflops.

China’s current lead system, the TaihuLight, came in at number five at 480.8 tflops. It was behind the most powerful U.S. system, the Trinity supercomputer, at number three with 546.1 teraflops using the HPCG benchmark.

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