The supercomputer race between nations is heating up, in an epic battle for the next generation of the world's most powerful computing systems being fought between the United States and China.

The U.S. Department of Energy recently announced it will invest $425 million in researching and designing a pair of computers faster and more powerful than anything in the world today. The machines will be used to simulate nuclear weapons tests, and well as for other scientific purposes. One of the computers, Sierra, will reside at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, while Summit will be housed in Tennessee, at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Sierra will operate at 100 petaflops (each a quadrillion operations per second), while Summit will complete operations at 150 petaflops. These speeds are between five and seven times faster than the fastest computer in the world.

The Tianhe-2, designed by the government of China in 2013, runs at up to 33.86 petaflops. The machine is housed at the National University of Defense Technology in Changsha, Hunan Province, China. The supercomputer uses Kylin Linux, a custom-designed version of the popular operating system.

Currently, the second-fastest computer in the world is Titan, designed by the Cray Corp. That 27-petaflop device is also stored at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

"Like Titan, Summit will have a hybrid architecture, and each node will contain multiple IBM Power9 CPUs and Nvidia Volta GPUs all connected together with Nvidia's high-speed NVLink. Each node will have over half a terabyte of coherent memory (high bandwidth memory + DDR4) addressable by all CPUs and GPUs plus 800 GB of nonvolatile RAM," The Oak Ridge National Laboratory reports.

At peak power, Summit will consume 10 megawatts of power, 11 percent more than Titan.

Summit is expected to arrive at the Oak Ridge facility in 2017 and will go online in 2018, ready for use by universities and research facilities.

"Summit will break new ground and bring new understanding to many areas of science and engineering such as combustion science, nuclear power, biofuels, fusion energy, climate change, solar energy, energy storage, and catalysis, to name a few," Oak Ridge officials wrote in a Summit fact sheet.

The first computer to break the one-petaflop barrier was designed by IBM in 2009. That corporation is one of the primary designers of Sierra and Summit.

Nvidia, a manufacturer best known for computer processors designed for gaming, is also taking part in creating the world's fastest supercomputers.

Researchers around the world will be able to apply for computing time on Summit, to complete simulations in a wide range of scientific endeavors.

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