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The top 10 supercomputers in the world, 20 years ago

Jon Gold | July 15, 2015
The Top500 list from June 1995 shows just how far the possibilities of silicon have come in the past 20 years. Performance figures are listed in gigaflops, rather than the teraflops of today, meaning that, for example, the tenth-place entrant in this week’s newly released list is more than 84,513 times faster than its two-decades-ago equivalent.

#6: 1995 Thinking Machines CM-5/1056, Los Alamos National Laboratory, 59.7 GFLOP/S

     2015 Piz Daint, Swiss National Supercomputing Center, 6,217,000 GFLOP/S

For the record, we're well over the 100,000x performance disparity between these two systems at this point. One thing that's notable about 1995's systems compared to today's is the small number of cores the CM-5 that placed sixth in 1995 used 1,056 cores, and the Fujitsu behind it used only 42. Per-core performance is still orders of magnitude higher today, but it's worth noting that a huge proportion of the total performance increase is due to the vastly higher number of processor cores in use no system on the 2015 list had fewer than 189,792, counting accelerators.

#5: 1995 Fujitsu VPP500/80, Japan National Laboratory for High Energy Physics, 98.9 GFLOP/S

       2015 Mira, Argonne National Laboratory, 8,586,600 GFLOP/S

The power factor is back down to about 87,000 with the substantial jump in performance up to the 80-core Fujitsu's nearly 100 gigaflop mark. The VPP500/80 would remain on the list through 1999, never dropping below the 90th position.

#4: 1995 Cray T3D MC1024-8, undisclosed U.S. government facility, 100.5 GFLOP/S

     2015 Fujitsu K Computer, RIKEN Advanced Institute for Computational Science, 10,510,000 GFLOP/S

The T3D MC1024-8 system used at an undisclosed government facility (which is almost certainly not the NSA, of course) was the first on the 1995 list to top the 100 gigaflop mark, and stayed on the Top500 until 2001. That's a solid run, and one that the Fujitsu K computer, on its fourth year in the top 5, could do well to emulate.

#3: 1995 Intel XP/S-MP 150, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, 127.1 GFLOP/S

     2015 Sequoia, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, 17,173,200 GFLOP/S

The Department of Energy's strong presence on the upper rungs of the Top500 list is one thing that hasn't changed in 20 years, it seems four of the top 10 in both 2015 and 1995 were administered by the DOE. The XP/S-MP 150 system boasts roughly three times as many processor cores than all but one other entry on the list, at 3,072, in a sign of things to come.

#2: 1995 Intel XP/S140, Sandia National Laboratory, 143.4 GFLOP/S

     2015 Titan, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, 17,590,000 GFLOP/S

Indeed, the other Intel system on the 1995 list was the only other one with more cores, at 3,608. It's even starting to look more like a modern supercomputer.

#1: 1995 Fujitsu Numerical Wind Tunnel, National Aerospace Laboratory of Japan, 170 GFLOP/S

       2015 Tianhe-2, China National Supercomputer Center, 33,862,700 GFLOP/S

The Numerical Wind Tunnel, as the name suggests, was used for fluid dynamics simulations in aerospace research, most notably the classic wind tunnel testing to measure stability and various forces acting on an airframe at speed. The 2015 winner, China's Tianhe-2, is almost two hundred thousand times as powerful, however.


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