China's Supercomputer Will Perform Quintillions of Calculations

That's a serious amount of power.

China is developing an exascale supercomputer, a special class of computer that can perform at least one quintillion floating point calculations every second. That’s a billion billion, for those that don’t work with supercomputers regularly — as a rough guide, the PlayStation 4’s graphics power amounts to around two thousand billion calculations per second.

An exascale supercomputer is a serious amount of power. The Human Brain Project, an EU-funded team that’s trying to simulate a human brain for advanced artificial intelligence applications, is targeting an exascale computer for its usage. The big issue is power: the project believes that with today’s technology, a suitable exascale computer would consume around one gigawatt.

China has big plans for its supercomputing output. A prototype is expected by the end of the year, and the computer is intended for use with big data and cloud computing applications. China has a good track record when it comes to supercomputers: the Sunway TaihuLight, revealed last June, was the world’s first to move past 124.5 petaflops, or 124.5 million billion calculations per second.

“A complete computing system of the exascale supercomputer and its applications can only be expected in 2020, and will be 200 times more powerful than the country’s first petaflop computer Tianhe-1, recognized as the world’s fastest in 2010,” Zhang Ting, an application engineer at the National Supercomputer Center, said on Tuesday.

It’s not the only player in town, though. Japan is working on a 130 petaflop supercomputer which, although not as fast as the exascale machine, could see the light of day first. Private companies will be able to tap into the machine’s power for a fee, and Japan is hopeful the machine could help get a boost in the nascent self-driving car industry.