In 2001, the Chinese didn't hold a single spot on the Top 500 list; today they are second in number of facilities only to the United States. And they drove their ambitious point home by switching on the system at the National Supercomputing Center in Tianjin (near Beijing).
The Tianhe-1A computer peaks at almost 2.56 petaflops, and it launched the National Supercomputing Center to the top of the international list in early 2010. That was the center's first-ever entry on the list. The international community couldn't ignore that kind of entry into the marketplace – it's often called China's supercomputing Sputnik moment.
Unfortunately, Tianhe-1A has always been viewed with a certain level of criticism. Its makeup involves a combination of CPUs and GPUs (graphical processing units) to achieve its speed. GPUs offer an energy-efficient way of adding significant processing power to a supercomputer. The problem is that not much of China's software for high-performance computing was compatible with GPU-based systems. Tianhe-1A's detractors like to call this the biggest, baddest gaming machine on the international stage. Chinese scientists counter that argument by pointing outing out the fact that Tianhe-1A is used for real research, particularly in the fields of energy and mineral exploration [source: Lim].
The fact remains that Tianhe-1A was a fairly obvious and successful grab at the world title, but it also belied China's newcomer status in supercomputing and showed the areas that it still needs to develop. Given the country's commitment to leading in this field, it won't be long before the bugs will be worked out of its computing initiative.