US prohibits Intel to export chips for Chinese supercomputers

US chip maker Intel has been prohibited by the US Department of Commerce to export chips needed to upgrade Chinese supercomputers.

The Department determined that “the National University of Defense Technology (NUDT), the National Supercomputing Center in Changsha (NSCC-CS), National Supercomputing Center in Guangzhou (NSCC-GZ), and the National Supercomputing Center in Tianjin (NSCC-TJ), all located in the People’s Republic of China” are to be placed on the list of entities “for whom there is reasonable cause to believe, based on specific and articulable facts, have been involved, are involved, or pose a significant risk of being or becoming involved in, activities that are contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States.”

“Specifically, NUDT has used U.S.-origin multicores, boards, and (co)processors to produce the TianHe- 1A and TianHe-2 supercomputers located at the National Supercomputing Centers in Changsha, Guangzhou, and Tianjin. The TianHe-1A and TianHe-2 supercomputers are believed to be used in nuclear explosive activities,” they explained in a notice published on the Department’s website on February 18.

Tianhe-2 is currently at the very top of the list of supercomputers, with a computational capacity of over 33 petaflops, and runs on Intel Ivy Bridge Xeon processors and Xeon Phi coprocessor chips.

Despite this setback, Intel has reason to rejoice, as they announced last week that the US Department of Energy chose Intel Corp’s subsidiary Intel Federal to deliver two next-generation supercomputers to Argonne National Laboratory.

“The contract is part of the DOE’s multimillion dollar initiative to build state-of-the-art supercomputers at Argonne, Lawrence Livermore and Oak Ridge National Laboratories that will be five to seven times more powerful than today’s top supercomputers,” the press release said.

“Intel was selected as the prime contractor and will work with Cray Inc. as the system integrator and manufacturer of these next-generation high-performance computing (HPC) systems for the ALCF. The largest system, to be called Aurora, is based on Intel’s HPC scalable system framework and will be a next-generation Cray ‘Shasta’ supercomputer. The Aurora system will be delivered in 2018 and have a peak performance of 180 petaflops, making it the world’s most powerful system currently announced to date. A second system, to be named Theta, will serve as an early production system for the ALCF. To be delivered in the 2016, the system will provide performance of 8.5 petaflops while requiring only 1.7 megawatts of power.”

When it comes to processor and chip design and manufacturing, Chinese companies are currently significantly behind US companies’ efforts, but this just might be the incentive they needed to speed up development.

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