By Katabella Roberts
The United States has reclaimed the top spot from Japan in the race to create the world’s fastest supercomputer.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s (ORNL) massive Frontier supercomputer was declared the world’s fastest computer on May 30 on the TOP500 ranking, and is the first to achieve the exascale threshold of one quintillion calculations per second, the laboratory said in a May 30 Twitter post.
ORNL is part of the U.S. Department of Energy.
“At 1.1 exaflops, Frontier is also the world’s fastest supercomputer and can solve more than a quintillion calculations per second,” ORNL said on Twitter in the May 30 announcement.
“Frontier’s early performance on the Linpack benchmark amounts to more than seven times that of Summit at 148.6 petaflops,” ORNL added.
The Linpack benchmark has been the standard by which supercomputers have been ranked for two decades, while a petaflop is a unit of measurement used for calculating the performance of a processor’s floating point unit, a specialized co-processor that manipulates numbers faster than the basic microprocessor circuitry.
“Frontier is ushering in a new era of exascale computing to solve the world’s biggest scientific challenges,” ORNL Director Thomas Zacharia said in a statement on the lab’s website.
“This milestone offers just a preview of Frontier’s unmatched capability as a tool for scientific discovery. It is the result of more than a decade of collaboration among the national laboratories, academia, and private industry, including DOE’s Exascale Computing Project, which is deploying the applications, software technologies, hardware, and integration necessary to ensure impact at the exascale.”
The top position for the world’s most powerful publicly known systems was previously held by Japan’s Arm-based Fugaku for two years.
That supercomputer reached less than half of Frontier’s computing powers, at 442 petaflops, although that was enough to keep the Japanese supercomputer in the leading position for two years.
A supercomputer has a much higher level of performance compared to that of a general-purpose computer and can perform billions and trillions of calculations or computations per second.
They are typically used to help scientists and researchers solve complex scientific problems that involve a lot of mathematical calculations, such as simulating the effects of a nuclear explosion, forecasting the weather, and oil and gas exploration.
Frontier is so powerful that it can make these complex calculations in one second, something that would take four years if every person on earth completed one calculation per second.
ORNL said it now plans to continue testing and validating the supercomputer, which is set to receive final acceptance and early science access later in 2022 and will be open for full scientific use at the start of 2023.
However, some experts believe that China is ahead of Frontier when it comes to the fastest supercomputers, with their Sunway Oceanlite and Tianhe-3 systems.
China, which has become a dominant force in technology, has reportedly not submitted test results of those machines to the scientists who oversee the so-called Top500 ranking.
“There are rumors China has something,” Jack Dongarra, a professor of computer science at the University of Tennessee who helps lead the Top500 list, told The New York Times. “There is nothing official.”
It is unclear why, but some experts believe this may be due to tensions between China and the United States, given that such a supercomputer could drastically bolster China’s national defense systems.
The U.S. Department of Commerce imposed sanctions on Chinese organizations involved in supercomputing in 2019 as they were widely seen as political threats.