Two people familiar with the matter said that the U.S. Department of Energy is close to a deal to buy a supercomputer manufactured with chips from Nvidia Corp. and Advanced Micro Devices Inc. This supercomputer will be used by a key laboratory while it waits for a larger one from Intel Corp. The delay has been going on for months.
The Nvidia/AM machine, to be named Polaris, won’t be a replacement of the Intel-based Aurora machine slated to the Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago. This machine was expected to be the fastest in the country when it was announced in 2019.
According to people familiar with the matter, Polaris will instead be a test machine that Argonne will use to prepare its software for the Intel machine.
Ben Schiltz, spokesperson for Argonne, did not respond immediately to a request for comment. Aaron Grabein, spokesperson AMD was also unavailable. Ken Brown, spokesperson for Nvidia, declined to comment.
Nvidia, AMD and Intel are all vying for market share in chips used for data centers. The United States has a number of supercomputers that perform scientific research for climate, healthcare and other researchers. They also test nuclear weapons virtually.
Many of the key technologies that were pioneered in these systems are often passed down to commercial data centres in subsequent years. This gives an advantage to chip companies who win contract work.
When Aurora was announced, Intel and Argonne stated that the machine would arrive in 2021. However, Intel has yet to deliver the crucial Ponte Vecchio or Sapphire Rapids chips. In June, Intel stated that the Sapphire Rapids chips wouldn’t be available for production until 2022. On Tuesday, Will Moss, an Intel spokesperson, said that the company was committed to delivering it in 2022.
The $500 million contract called for Intel and partners to deliver a computer with so-called exaflop performance, or the ability to perform 1 quintillion – or 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 – calculations per second. The first exascale computer in America will be built by Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co using AMD chips. It is expected that it will be installed at Oak Ridge National Lab in Tennessee.
According to sources, the Polaris machine at Argonne won’t be as powerful than the Intel machine. The Polaris computer, which is based on Nvidia’s A100 chips as well as AMD’s Rome- and Milan chips will be able make exaflop calculations, but it will work mostly at slower speeds.