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China to leap over computer barrier

By Zhang Zhihao and Zhang Min | China Daily Europe | Updated: 2017-02-24 08:01

China has started to build a new-generation supercomputer that is expected to be 10 times faster than the current world leader.

This year, the country is aiming for breakthroughs in high-performance processors and other key technologies to build the world's first prototype exascale supercomputer, the Tianhe-3, says Meng Xiangfei, director of application at the National Super Computer Tianjin Center. The prototype is expected to be completed in early 2018.

"Exascale" means it will be capable of making a quintillion (1 followed by 18 zeros) calculations per second. That is at least 10 times faster than the world's current speed champ, the Sunway Taihu Light, China's first super-computer to use domestically designed processors. That computer has a peak speed of 125 quadrillion (1 followed by 15 zeros) calculations per second, Meng says.

"Its computing power is on the next level, cementing China as the world leader in supercomputer hard-ware," he says. It would be available for public use and "help us tackle some of the world's toughest scientific challenges with greater speed, precision and scope".

Tianhe-3 will be made entirely in China, from processors to operating system. It will be stationed in Tianjin and fully operational by 2020, earlier than the US plan for its exascale supercomputer, he says.

China also has another exascale supercomputer in the works.

"Such machines take years to make and typically are retired in six to eight years, so you always need a backup, especially when your older models are overworked," Meng says.

Tianhe-1, China's first quadrillion-level supercomputer, developed in 2009, is now working at full capacity, undertaking more than 1,400 assignments each day, solving problems "from stars to cells".

The exascale supercomputer will be able to analyze smog distribution on a national level, while current models can only handle a district. Tianhe-3 also could simulate earthquakes and epidemic outbreaks in more detail, allowing swifter and more effective government responses, Meng says, adding that the new machine also will be able to analyze gene sequence and protein structures in unprecedented scale and speed.

Liu Guangming, director of the National Super Computer Tianjin Center, says Tianhe-3 will generate more than 10 billion yuan ($1.49 billion; 1.4 billion euros;��1.2 billion) in economic benefits per year, according to the The Paper, a Shanghai news organization.

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(China Daily European Weekly 02/24/2017 page14)

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