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19th January 2017

China to build first exascale supercomputer prototype in 2017

The Chinese government has announced plans for the first prototype exascale supercomputer by the end of the year.


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Last year, China unveiled the Sunway TaihuLight. With a peak performance of 125 petaflops, it became the world's fastest supercomputer, three times faster than the previous record holder, Tianhe-2, and five times faster than the Titan Cray Xk7 at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the US.

Hoping to extend its global lead even further, China has this week announced plans for the first exascale supercomputer. In other words, a machine capable of making 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 (a quintillion) calculations per second; an order of magnitude faster than Sunway TaihuLight. A prototype version is expected to be ready by the end of 2017, but will not be fully operational until 2020. This is, however, consistent with China's 13th and latest Five-Year Plan, which includes the goal of developing such a project during the period 2016-2020.

“A complete computing system of the exascale supercomputer and its applications can only be expected in 2020, and will be 200 times more powerful than the country’s first petaflop computer Tianhe-1, recognized as the world’s fastest in 2010,” said Zhang Ting, an engineer at Tianjin’s National Supercomputer Center, during an interview with state-run news agency, Xinhua.

Computing at the exascale will be a major milestone in software and hardware engineering. This generation of supercomputers – at some point between 2020 and 2030 – will be capable of simulating an entire human brain down to the level of individual neurons. In addition to revealing insights into neurological processes and mental disorders, this could also help in developing stronger AI.


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