AMD and Cray just signed a key deal for an incredibly powerful $600 million supercomputer. Here's how it could give AMD an edge on its rival Intel (AMD, CRAY, INTC, IBM)


amd ceo lisa su

  • AMD is helping Cray Computer build a new supercomputer for the Department of Energy that it promises will be faster than the fastest supercomputers of today. 
  • The Department of Energy supercomputer, dubbed Frontier, costs more than $600 million and will be operational in 2021.
  • The project could help raise AMD’s profile in the high-performance computing chip market dominated by Intel and IBM.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

AMD is helping Cray Computer build a supercomputer for the Department of Energy that promises to be faster than any other system of its kind in the world. 

“If you take the 160 fastest supercomputers today, that’s the capability of this machine,” Cray CEO Peter Ungaro told Business Insider.

Frontier is expected to boost research in many areas of big data and artificial intelligence, Ungaro s

The supercomputer, dubbed “Frontier” and with a price tag of more than $600 million, is expected to be unveiled Tuesday. It may also give the semiconductor giant a boost in a market dominated by its toughest rivals: high performance chips.

Frontier promises to be an exascale supercomputer — that is, a system capable of making a quintillion calculations per second — for the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. Cray CEO Peter Ungaro told Business Insider.

The system will be used for sophisticated simulation and analyses in various fields, including weather, genomics and physics. It is scheduled to start operating in 2021.

AMD’s biggest supercomputer deal

AMD CEO Lisa Su said the project is expected to boost the chip giant’s competitiveness in important arenas.

“High performance computing and AI are very important for AMD from a strategic standpoint,” she told Business Insider. “This is the largest supercomputing deal we’ve had.”

The supercomputer project “significantly improves AMD’s standing in the future in high-performance computing and AI,” analyst Patrick Moorhead of Moor Insights and Strategy told Business Insider.

“What’s interesting is how this is one indicator of what future roadmaps look like, and it appears AMD has a winner,” Moorhead, a former AMD corporate vice president, added.

“This specific supercomputer won’t be operational until 2021, so this choice wasn’t based on what is in the market today, but in 2021. From this we can extract that AMD is competitive,” he said. 

Intel dominates this market

AMD still lags other chip powerhouses in the high performance space, however.

Intel chips power roughly 95% of the top 500 supercomputers in the world, followed by IBM with around 2%, and AMD and other chip makers after that, according to Gartner analyst Tony Harvey.

“This market space is extremely competitive on performance and cost,” he told Business Insider. It is also a “rapidly growing market” that “impacts the data center and cloud markets by being both important for delivering AI and machine learning solutions and proving credibility by demonstrating the performance of the systems in a very large environment.”

“AMD being able to demonstrate their performance in this market makes them even more attractive to the cloud vendors, most of whom are already starting to provide AMD-based machines to their clients,” Harvey said.

Join the conversation about this story »

NOW WATCH: Astronomers just captured the first image of a black hole. Here are the horrifying things that would happen if you fell into one.