The US has stepped up to the plate in the race to develop the world's most powerful supercomputer: one that is five times faster than Summit, revealed this month.
Exascale machines, capable of one exaflop (a billion billion calculations per second), are seen as the next significant landmark in computing. Researchers in the USA intend to build one, known as Aurora, by 2021.
"Exascale computers are powerful scientific instruments, much like [particle] colliders or giant telescopes," Jack Dongarra, a supercomputing expert at the University of Tennessee, told MIT Technology Review.
Computers with this much power will enable hugely complex simulations in many fields, from artificial intelligence to climate science. They could also be used by military and intelligence agencies, or in industry.
Before Summit, China's Sunway TaihuLight was the supercomputing leader - and the country also plans to build the world's first exascale unit.
Back in 2015, China said that it would build an exascale computer by the end of 2020, and seemed to be on track to do so. However, delays may have pushed that target back to mid- or late 2021 Depei Qian, a professor at Beihang University in Beijing, told MIT.
Chinese teams are currently working on three prototypes: two using ‘homegrown' chips and a third with licensed processor tech; according to Qian, researchers are still assessing the positives and negatives of each approach.
The 2021 target for Aurora, which is being built by Cray for the US Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory, with Intel chips, was brought forwards from 2023 because of China's commitment to exascale computing.
Power consumption is a roadblock for exascale; the operating costs over a computer's lifetime could exceed the cost of building it. The DoE has set an upper limit of 40MW for Aurora, equivalent to $40 million per year.
Engineers are using a variety of approaches to lower power draw, including physically placing 3D memory close to the compute cores and relying more on solid-state flash memory.
Once the machines are built they will need software to run on them, and the US and China are competing here, too. Chinese teams are said to be working on 15 application areas and US teams on 25, including astrophysics and material science.
While the amount of mainstream national pride on the line here might not be the same as that tied up in sporting events like the World Cup, the outcome of these projects will be much more important for the world as a whole.
Well, unless you're an England fan.
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