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Technology

Japan set to challenge US and China for fastest supercomputer

Fujitsu's Fugaku aims to bring crown back to Tokyo for first time since 2011

Japan's Fugaku supercomputer, shown here in Kobe in a photo provided by the Riken research institute, has been deployed to hunt for coronavirus treatments.   © Kyodo

TOKYO -- A government-backed supercomputer project looks to zip past dominant American and Chinese rivals to reclaim the top spot for Japan in international speed rankings due out this month.

Co-developed by Fujitsu and the Riken institute, the Fugaku has a theoretical peak speed of roughly 530 petaflops. This is equivalent to each of the world's 7 billion people performing one calculation per second nonstop for more than two years.

It is more than twice as fast as the 200 petaflops of IBM's Summit, which has led the twice-annual Top500 rankings for two years. The Fugaku represents Japan's best hope yet of regaining the lead in supercomputer speed, which has become a two-way race between the U.S. and China in recent years and holds implications for economic and national security potential.

Bearing a poetic name for Mount Fuji, the Fugaku is expected to place near the top of the new list and could reach No. 1, observers say. A Japanese system was last named the fastest supercomputer eight and a half years ago: the K computer, also from Fujitsu.

IBM's Sierra supercomputer ranked second in the most recent Top500 list, published in November 2019. Third place went to the Sunway TaihuLight, built by China's National Research Center of Parallel Computer Engineering & Technology, and fourth place to the Tianhe-2A from China's National University of Defense Technology.

The highest-ranking Japanese machine was a different Fujitsu supercomputer that came in eighth.

The Fugaku has been deployed on a trial basis during the coronavirus pandemic to help search for drug candidates. Its abilities beyond such experimental settings have yet to be tested.

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