China prototypes pre-exascale super trio with its own non-US chips

No American CPUs and accelerators in sight

Before any country can deploy an exascale system, they have to get pre-exascale prototypes into the field to test out their underlying technologies and determine what approaches have the best chance of scaling up performance and being manufactured affordably. It looks like China is looking at three different pre-exascale systems, and none of them will deploy processors or accelerators made by US companies.

It is no secret that China has wanted to develop an indigenous capability to design chips and build supercomputer-class systems, and this was true even before the US government put the kibosh on selling Intel Xeon and Xeon Phi coprocessors to certain labs in China last year. That ban spawned what, from the outside, looks like a flurry of new chip development activity, but what is clear from the unveiling of the 93 petaflops Sunway TaihuLight supercomputer in June – a working system with a sophisticated and elegant processor that rivals anything an American, European, or Japanese company can put into the field. China has dabbled with Sparc and Alpha processors for years, and tried to create its own variant of the MIPS architecture with an X86 compatibility mode with the Godson chips. But with the Shenwei SW26010 processors used in the Sunway TaihuLight, which have 260 cores running at 1.45 GHz per socket and which delivers around 3 teraflops of number crunching power at double precision. Significantly, the performance of the SW26010 is on par with Intel’s “Knights Landing” Xeon Phi processors, and gives China has a solid foundation on which to push upwards to exascale systems.

As it turns out, China is not betting solely on the Shenwei chips, and apparently has plans to build three different pre-exascale systems with three very different architectures, according to some tweets put out by James Lin, vice director for the Center of HPC at Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

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