Intel Can't Sell Chips to China Because the US Fears Nukes

By Maddie Stone on at

In the latest passive-aggressive exchange between the US and its rival superpower, the US Department of Commerce has denied Intel a license to export tens of thousands of Xeon Phi chips to China to upgrade the country’s Tianhe-2 supercomputer. Because, you know, nukes.

For the past 18 months, China’s Tianhe-2 has held the title of the world’s most powerful computing machine. The beast of a computer currently uses 80,000 Xeon chips to generate more than 33 petaflops of computational capacity (one petaflop is roughly equal to one quadrillion calculations per second.) This year, the machine is due to undergo a series of upgrades, which would push its processing power past 110 petaflops.

This is making the US government—which says the machine is being used for “nuclear explosives activities”—a bit squirmy. (A US export regulations document clarifies that “nuclear explosives activities” can mean any technologies used in the “design, development, or fabrication” of nukes.) While it’s unclear whether the Feds have any tangible proof that the supercomputer is being used for malicious purposes, Intel’s got no choice but to comply and shrug off the lost sales opportunity. The chipmaker won’t be too much out of pocket, however, since it was recently contracted to build the 180 petaflop Aurora supercomputer at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois.

Is it just me, or have we gone from having actual nuclear arms races to using nukes as a pretense for a computational arms race? Kinda meta. [ BBC Technology]

Top image: The Tianhe-2 supercomputer via Sam Churchill