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U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry (L) announced Monday that Intel CEO Bob Swan’s company will produce the first U.S. “exascale” computing in partnership with Seattle’s Cray. (Argonne National Laboratory Photo)

The first U.S. supercomputer capable of processing 1 quintillion calucations each second will be built for the U.S. Department of Energy by Intel and Cray, the two companies announced Monday.

The Aurora system is scheduled to be delivered to the DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory in 2021, which will likely arrive after similar projects in China are expected to emerge in 2020. There are lots of zeros attached to this deal: 1 quintillion calculations is equivalent to a billion billion calculations; the overall contract will cost the DOE $500 million; and Seattle’s Cray is expected to rake in more than $100 million for its part in the development of Aurora.

The Aurora supercomputer will use more than 200 Cray Shasta cabinets and a future-generation Intel Xeon processor. (Credit: Argonne National Laboratory)

More than 200 Cray Shasta cabinets will be used to construct Aurora, and a future version of Intel’s Xeon processors will do the heavy lifting inside those cabinets. The Aurora system will allow Intel to claim temporary bragging rights over IBM’s Power processor, which currently runs the two most powerful supercomputers on the Top 500 list.

So who needs exacale computing? The DOE will likely use Aurora in hopes of producing more accurate extreme weather forecasts or advanced medical research, said Argonne National Laboratory Director Paul Kearns in a statement. This type of computing power could also be used for breakthroughs in materials science that could aid the federal government in everything from advanced weaponry to clean power.

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