NVIDIA, Intel, AMD Snag $258 Million Department of Energy Grant For Exascale Supercomputers

With the Chinese dominating the charts when it comes to the world’s most powerful supercomputers, the United States is looking to leverage its homegrown talent to usher in next-generation exascale computing. The Department of Energy (DOE) Exascale Computing Project (ECP) is funding six of the country’s top chip firms in order to ensure U.S. leadership in the field.

Those companies include AMD, Intel, NVIDIA, Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, IBM and Cray. The six companies will have access to $258 million in funds that will be dispersed over a three-year-period. According to DOE, the funds will be used by the six companies to boost research and development in hardware technology, software technology and application development. If all goes according to plan, the DOE envisions that at least one U.S.-based exascale supercomputer will be in operation by the year 2021.

Sunway TaihuLight

China's 93 petaFLOP TaihuLight supercomputer

“Continued U.S. leadership in high performance computing is essential to our security, prosperity, and economic competitiveness as a nation,” said DOE Secretary Rick Perry. “These awards will enable leading U.S. technology firms to marshal their formidable skills, expertise, and resources in the global race for the next stage in supercomputing—exascale-capable systems.”

For its part, NVIDIA is looking to bolt across the exascale finish line using a combination of CPUs and GPUs in order to improve energy efficiency, keeping power consumption in the 20- to 30-megawatt range. NVIDIA says that exascale systems built solely with CPUs alone would consume hundreds of megawatts.

“Our R&D will focus on critical areas including energy-efficient GPU architectures and resilience,” writes NVIDIA. “Our findings may be incorporated into future generation GPU architectures after Volta (which will be used in the DOE’s upcoming flagship Summit and Sierra supercomputers, scheduled to go online in 2018).”

The world’s top two supercomputers hail from China, with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Titan supercomputer taking the third place position. Getting an America back to the top of the charts with an exascale supercomputer — which would be more than 50 times faster than Titan — would not only be a huge boon for domestic tech giants, but it would also be an ego boost for tech aspirations for the country as a whole.

There’s also a practical component as well. The DOE says that strength in supercomputing will allow the U.S. to tackle “serious and urgent economic, environmental, and national security challenges based on energy, climate, and growing security threats.”