China recently revealed a highly sophisticated supercomputer, strategically developed despite facing restrictive US sanctions. The Sunway supercomputer, equipped with an enhanced domestically produced chip, has emerged as the second most potent system globally, trailing only behind the Frontier, a creation of the US Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
A Chinese computer scientist, opting for anonymity, disclosed that while the Sunway doesn’t currently hold the title of the most powerful supercomputer in China, its unveiling at the Supercomputing 2023 (SC23) conference in Denver shed light on China’s ability to navigate around US sanctions to construct its own high-performance computing systems.
Although the indigenous chips employed by the Sunway may not match the potency of their US counterparts, Chinese scientists opted for a different approach by augmenting the number of cores within the system. This strategic decision, however, comes with trade-offs, resulting in increased energy consumption, enlarged physical size, and elevated operational costs for the supercomputer.
Despite these challenges posed by the circumvention of US sanctions, the outcome is an impressively swift and powerful machine. Boasting a capability of a billion billion operations per second, expressed as 5 floating-point operations per second (exaflops) under the “HPL mixed precision” benchmark, the Sunway is positioned just below the Frontier, which registers a score of 9.95 exaflops. Notably, the Sunway features more than 41 million CPU cores, nearly five times the count of the Frontier.
Surpassing leading supercomputers, including the Frontier, in computing efficiency, the Chinese innovation maintains over 85% of its peak performance during regular operation. This places it at the forefront among all heterogeneous systems, a prevalent supercomputing architecture, and secures the second-highest position across all systems.
Simultaneously, the identity of China’s most powerful supercomputer remains undisclosed, with ongoing developments in additional supercomputing chips, as indicated by a Chinese scientist affiliated with a prominent mainland university. This unveiling underscores China’s commitment to advancing its technological capabilities despite external challenges.