Project Aurora: U.S. government, Intel aim for nation's fastest computer
By Stephen Nellis
March 18 (Reuters) - A U.S. government-led group is working
with chipmaker Intel Corp and Cray Inc to
develop and build the nation's fastest computer by 2021 for
conducting nuclear weapons and other research, officials said on
The Department of Energy and the Argonne National Laboratory
near Chicago said they are working on a supercomputer dubbed
Aurora with Intel, the world's biggest supplier of data center
chips, and Cray, which specializes in the ultra-fast machines.
The $500 million contract for the project calls on the
companies to deliver a computer with so-called exaflop
performance - that is, being able to perform 1 quintillion - or
1,000,000,000,000,000,000 - calculations per second.
If the project succeeds, Auroro would represent nearly an
order of magnitude leap over existing machines that feature
so-called petaflop performance, capable of doing 1 quadrillion,
or 1,000,000,000,000,000 - calculations a second.
It also heightens the stakes in a race in which the United
States, China, the European Union, and Japan have all announced
plans to build exaflop-capable supercomputers.
One of Aurora's primary functions would be simulating
nuclear blasts, a pillar of weapons development since the ban of
live detonation testings.
Aurora will be built with artificial intelligence
capabilities for projects such as developing better battery
materials and helping the Veterans Administration prevent
suicides, Rick Stevens, an associate lab director with Argonne
overseeing the exascale computing project, said during a news
The project is a win for Intel, which will supply its Xeon
CPU chips and Optane memory chips for Aurora.
Intel has been fending off rival U.S. chipmaker Nvidia
Corp's rise in the chip content of supercomputers as
the machines take on more artificial intelligence work. Nvidia's
chips are found in five of the world's current top-10
supercomputers, though the Nvidia chips are found alongside
chips from its rivals, according to TOP500, which ranks the
The world's current most powerful machine, the Summit
supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee,
contains chips from International Business Machines Corp
The source of chips for supercomputers has become a factor
in trade tensions between the United States and China. The
world's third-fastest supercomputer - the Sunway TaihuLight in
China - has chips developed domestically in China.
Chirag Dekate, an analyst with Gartner who studies the
supercomputing market, said that despite the small contract size
relative to Intel's overall revenue, the work done on Aurora
will eventually filter down to the company's commercial
"It's not just a jingoistic race between the U.S. and
China," Dekate said. "The innovations that Intel is developing
here will percolate down to other parts of its business."
(Reporting by Stephen Nellis; editing by Jonathan Oatis)
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