The latest news coming from mainland China is that two Chinese supercomputers are capable and have already broken the notorious exascale barrier. However, the scoop is that the developers of these two supercomputers are choosing to stay quiet about it for now.
Both systems managed to achieve 1.3 ExaFLOPS peak performance and around 1.05 ExaFLOPS (or higher) sustained performance in the Linpack benchmark in March 2021, however, neither of the machines are currently listed in the global Top 500 list of supercomputers. The reason is that their developers do not want subcontractors of their partners to get into trouble with the U.S. government.
Both systems are reportedly based on China’s homegrown Phytium and Sunway processors and are not dependent on crucial technologies developed outside of the country. If the information is correct, then China is ahead of the U.S. in exascale supercomputing, however, there seems to be a catch, which we will discuss later.
The latest information is it’s the entire truth that China has effectively beaten the U.S. by almost a year with its exascale system as Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility’s Frontier supercomputer starts its operations in late 2021.
however, China’s achievement is that Frontier supercomputer’s target performance is about 1.5 TFLOPS, which is almost 50% higher when compared to the sustained performance of China’s exascale supercomputers.
And Frontier is further projected to consume around 30 MW of power, however, one of the supercomputers in the news reportedly has a power consumption of about 35 MW. And the developers of both the supercomputer are using the existing architectures developed for PetaFLOPS-scale systems and workloads, and they may not be optimal in the future.
Let’s talk about the catch now, and according to sources, to develop two of the world’s first exascale supercomputers, scientists from the National Supercomputing Center in Wuxi and the National Supercomputing Center from Guanzhou have reportedly decided to play it safe and rely on existing architectures.
This means the developers from Sunway Microelectronics (or Shenwei Microelectronics) and Tianjin Phytium Information Technology who are responsible for the development of the two megastars have designed appropriate chips and produced them albeit by using contemporary nodes.
Both the exascale supercomputers developed by China are not very energy efficient, however, if the country decides to use them in the development of new weapons, then power consumption is the last area that the Chinese government will care for. They may also not efficiently scale to 2 ExaFLOPS or 4 ExaFLOPS, but in today’s performance level they are plenty more powerful.
Tianjin Phytium Information Technology and Sunway Microelectronics (or Shenwei Microelectronics) are on the U.S. Commerce Department’s Entity List, making it extremely hard for them to develop brand-new architectures or state-of-the-art chips for future exascale supercomputers. However, that doesn’t seem to stop china for any bit as the country is slowly progressing towards becoming a leading global superpower.