Today's supercomputers can cost up to $550 million each, Conway said. Still, more than 100,000 of them are now sold each year, and because of their increasing use of commodity technologies, the vast majority of them cost less than $100,000.
"They used to be like muscle cars with lots of custom technology, but today they're more like family sedans that make use of a lot of commodity technologies from companies like Nvidia and Intel," Conway said. "The good news is that because of these commodity technologies, sooner or later the work these guys are doing on the really big supercomputers is going to wash right down through the market."
Though China may be sitting in the No. 1 spot on the Top 500 list, "the United States still remains in a leadership position," said David Bader, a professor in the School of Computational Science and Engineering at Georgia Tech University.
To wit: China's leading Tianhe-2 contains more than 3 million cores, and all of them are made by Intel, he pointed out.
The technologies in many or most of the world's fastest machines, in fact, are made by U.S. companies including IBM, Cray, AMD and Nvidia, he said.
Bader co-leads the Graph 500, another high-performance computing benchmark that's meant to complement the Top 500 by focusing on data-intensive applications. In the latest Graph 500 list, which was also released Monday, the No. 1 spot went to the K computer at Japan's RIKEN Advanced Institute for Computational Science, while second place went to IBM's Sequoia at Lawrence Livermore. Mira, another IBM Blue Gene/Q system at Argonne National Laboratory, came in third.
The Graph 500's top 10, in fact, currently includes several IBM systems.
"All of these are impressive systems," Bader said, "but our list was dominated by IBM's Blue Gene/Q in terms of this new analytics processing."
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