Why Has the U.S. Stopped China’s Supercomputer Upgrade?

Last November, Titan, a supercomputer backed by the US Department of Energy, broke the world record for the fastest supercomputer. Now, less than a year later, Tianhe-2, a Chinese supercomputer, has smashed that record. (Image: TOP500/Smart Planet)
Last November, Titan, a supercomputer backed by the US Department of Energy, broke the world record for the fastest supercomputer. Now, less than a year later, Tianhe-2, a Chinese supercomputer, has smashed that record. (Image: TOP500/Smart Planet)

China and the U.S. are at it again. The U.S. government has refused to let Intel update China’s Tianhe-2, the world’s largest supercomputer.

China, in a series of upgrades this year, wants to upgrade the machine’s capacity to over 110 petaflops. To do this, China relies heavily on Intel being allowed to ship new Xeon chips.

Intel applied for a license to be able to export tens of thousands of chips. The Department of Commerce refused Intel, saying they were concerned about nuclear research being done with the machine, said Next Big Future.

When the Titan broke the record, it was performing at 17.5 petaflop/s on the Linpack scale. Now, Tianhe-2, a supercomputer developed by China’s National University of Defence Technology, has a processing speed of 33.86 petaflop/s. (GBPublic_PR/Wikipedia)

When the Titan broke the record, it was performing at 17.5 petaflop/s on the Linpack scale. Now, Tianhe-2, a supercomputer developed by China’s National University of Defense Technology, has a processing speed of 33.86 petaflop/s. (Image: GBPublic_PR/Wikipedia)

The Tianhe-2 is comprised of 80,000 Intel Xeon CPUs, which gives it 33.86 petaflops of CPU performance.

A petaflop is equal to about one quadrillion calculations per second.

But keep in mind that Intel has signed a $200m deal with the U.S. government to build a supercomputer of its own at one of its national laboratories.

In a notice published online, the U.S. Department of Commerce said it refused Intel’s application to export the chips for Tianhe-2 and three other Chinese supercomputers because the machines were being used for “nuclear explosive activities.” The relevant section of U.S. export regulations reveals that this covers technologies used in the “design, development, or fabrication” of nuclear weapons, the BBC website said.

The notice added that the four institutions where the supercomputers would be located were deemed to be “acting contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States.”

Horst Simon, a supercomputer expert and deputy director of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, said the U.S. restrictions in the long run will help Chinese chip makers and hurt U.S. companies. “The Chinese will be more incentivized to develop their own technology, and U.S. manufacturers will be seen as less reliable and potentially not able to satisfy foreign orders,” The Mercury said on their website.

Well, I guess the U.S. only wants to export goods that are easy to put spyware into.

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