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Japan’s Fugaku cedes fastest computer crown to U.S.’s Frontier

  • May 30, 2022
  • , Nikkei Asia , 6:01 p.m.
  • English Press

By NIKI MIZUGUCHI and AKIRA OIKAWA, Nikkei staff writers


TOKYO — Frontier, a U.S.-built supercomputer, has dethroned Japan’s Fugaku, developed by the Riken Institute and Fujitsu, as the world’s fastest such device, according to a twice-yearly ranking published Monday, ending the Japanese machine’s two-year reign.


With the U.S. and China forging ahead in computational performance, the Japanese government will begin a full-scale study into building a successor to Fugaku, which placed second.

In the Top500 ranking published semiannually by an international conference of computer experts, Frontier came out on top, at 1.1 quintillion cycles per second. That puts Frontier in the “exa-class,” meaning it is capable of doing more than a quintillion (a 1 followed by 18 zeros) calculations per second. That is more than double the speed of Japan’s Fugaku supercomputer (442 quadrillion cycles per second), which held the top spot for the last four surveys, starting in June 2020.


The U.S. has been working on a plan to build multiple exa-class supercomputers, the first of which is Frontier. The plan is estimated to cost more than $5 billion. Frontier is operated by the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility. Its processor was developed by Advanced Micro Devices.


China had developed the successors to Tianhe-2 and Sunway TaihuLight, which previously boasted the world’s top performance, and they appear to have already overtaken Fugaku. It is thought that they did not appear in the most recent ranking because no applications were filed so as to avoid revealing the details of the Chinese computers’ technology. “They may have wanted to avoid provoking the U.S.,” said a Japanese government official.


Powerful supercomputers can conduct high-speed simulations that can take the place of real-world experiments. The machines are also used in a wide range of industries, including autos, materials and pharmaceuticals. They also have important applications in defense, such as research on advanced weapons. Hyperion Research forecasts the market for high-performance computers, including supercomputers, will grow at an average of about 8% per year, reaching $40 billion by 2025.


Supercomputers are seeing growing use in the development of artificial intelligence (AI), which handles massive amounts of data. U.S. tech companies like Google and Microsoft have built their own high-performance “AI supercomputers,” and in May Japan’s NEC announced it would develop its own large-scale supercomputer for AI research. Competition to develop supercomputers is heating up among companies as well as countries.


The question for Japan is how to develop a “post-Fugaku” strategy. Developing a large-scale supercomputer requires investment in the 100 billion yen ($787.5 million) range. Japan, with its deteriorating public finances, is struggling to keep pace with the U.S. and China in the race to build the world’s fastest supercomputers. However, conceding to its competitors could harm Japan’s technological capability, potentially threating its economic security, particularly amid the tension between the U.S. and China, and the fallout over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.


“In economic security, Japan is not aiming to be the top [in terms of calculation speeds],” said Professor Kazuto Suzuki of the University of Tokyo. “It is more important to build a system that can utilize supercomputers without relying on other countries.”


Using Fugaku, DMG Mori Seiki was able to predict in 10 minutes the results of materials processing that would otherwise take 8 hours with a machine tool. It will be key to expand these initiatives to the entire industry.

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