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Report: China built 2, first-ever supercomputers that can do quintillion calculations a second

Computer with code on the screen. (Pixabay/Relesaed)
November 01, 2021

China may have created two exascale computing systems capable of processing one quintillion, or one billion billion, calculations per second, an anonymous source told The Next Platform. If accurate, these would be the first systems to ever officially reached this goal.

The two computers were reportedly created at the National Supercomputing Center in Wuxi, China, the outlet stated. The machines – called the Sunway “Oceanlite” system and the Tianhe-3 – generated 1.3 exaflops. An exaflop is one billion billion calculations per second.

If true, these supercomputers would come months ahead of the planned debut of the United States’ own exascale computer project, the “Frontier” supercomputer. The Frontier supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Lab (ORNL) is projected to debut at 1.5 exaflops.

“Frontier is being installed now at Oak Ridge National Laboratory,” Morgan McCorkle, ORNL’s media relations manager said in early October, according to Nextgov.

With an exascale system, researchers could process immense amounts of information and organize revolutionary simulations at significantly faster speeds. The machines need a great deal of power and generate intense heat, requiring an over two-mile long power line to provide 40 megawatts of power and cooling.

“By solving calculations five times faster than today’s top supercomputers—exceeding a quintillion calculations per second—exascale systems like Frontier will enable scientists to develop new technologies for energy, medicine, and materials,” McCorkle said.

“Frontier is on track to be delivered by the end of 2021, with full user operations scheduled for 2022,” McCorkle added.

If China has successfully reached the exascale threshold, it would mark the second time in recent months that nation has come out ahead of the U.S. on technological advancements.

In August, China tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile that flew around the earth before hitting its target, a new report first revealed in mid-October. U.S. officials were reportedly stunned by China’s capabilities. A U.S. hypersonic missile test failed just days after the Chinese test came to light.

The missile circled the earth in low-orbit space and sped down to its target, though it landed some two-dozen miles away from its intended target. Those familiar with the test and briefed on intelligence told Financial Times that the test demonstrated major hypersonic weapons progress – more than the U.S. realized – and raised concerns that the U.S. has been underestimating China’s military capabilities.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley later confirmed to Defense One that a suspected Chinese hypersonic missile test “did circle the globe,” demonstrating its potential to circumvent U.S. missile defenses.

“What we saw was a very significant event of a test of a hypersonic weapon system. And it is very concerning,” Milley said in another interview for Bloomberg TV’s “The David Rubenstein Show.”