Nvidia Polaris supercomputer deal to be closed by the US while waiting for the delayed Intel machine

The US Department of Energy is nearing a deal to buy a supercomputer made with chips from Nvidia and Advanced Micro Devices while a key lab waits for a larger Intel supercomputer that has been delayed for months, two people familiar with the subject.

The Nvidia and AMD machine, to be called Polaris, will not be a replacement for the Intel-based Aurora machine scheduled for Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago, which was supposed to be the fastest computer in the country when announced in 2019.

Instead, the Polaris, which goes online this year, will be a test machine for Argonne to start preparing its software for Intel’s machine, people familiar with the matter said.

Argonne spokesman Ben Schiltz did not immediately respond to a request for comment, nor did AMD spokesman Aaron Grabein. Nvidia spokesman Ken Brown declined to comment.

Intel, AMD and Nvidia are scrambling for market share for chips used in data centers. The US ensemble of supercomputers performs scientific work for health, climate and other researchers, in addition to performing virtual tests of the nation’s nuclear weapons.

Leading systems pioneering technologies often make their way into commercial data centers in subsequent years, giving chip companies that gain the hired labor an edge.

When Aurora was first announced, Intel and Argonne said the machine would ship in 2021, but Intel has yet to ship the leading Ponte Vecchio and Sapphire Rapids chips. Intel said in June that Sapphire Rapids chips would not be in production until 2022, and on Tuesday, Intel spokesman Will Moss said the company remained committed to delivering the computer by 2022.

The $500 million contract (about INR 3,710 crores) required Intel and its 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. Now, the first exascale computer in the United States will likely be a different machine in a different lab — Oak Ridge National Lab in Tennessee — built by Hewlett Packard with AMD chips slated to ship later this year.

The Polaris machine at Argonne will not be as powerful as the Intel machine, sources said. Based on Nvidia’s A100 chips and AMD’s Rome and Milan chips, the Polaris computer will be able to do some exaflop calculations, but it will mostly work at slower speeds.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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