The U.S. blacklists five Chinese supercomputer firms, including AMD joint venture THATIC

U.S. firms will be forbidden to do business with the companies.

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FutureAtlas

The Trump Administration has taken further action against China, placing several of the country’s top supercomputing firms on the so-called “entity list” of companies with whom U.S. companies are forbidden to do business. Currently, that list’s most famous entrant is Huawei.

The New York Times noticed that five companies have been added to the entity list, including some with entrants among the world’s fastest supercomputers, known as the Top500 list. The new entrants on the entity list also include THATIC, a joint venture AMD had set up with the Chinese government in 2016 to license an x86 chip for use in China. 

The U.S. Department of Commerce is responsible for the entity list, which includes companies where the agency says there is “reasonable cause to believe...have been involved, are involved, or pose a significant risk of being involved in activities that are contrary to the national security or foreign policy of the United States.”

U.S. companies are forbidden from doing business with and supplying components to companies placed on the entity list, although exceptions can be granted. Though China has developed its own microprocessors, that means U.S. companies would be forbidden to ship PCs and other components to members on the entity list. Many supercomputers, for example, use Nvidia GPUs.

The five companies added to the list probably won’t be familiar even to fans of the technology industry: Chengdu Haiguang Integrated Circuit, Chengdu Haiguang Microelectronics Technology, Higon, Sugon, and the Wuxi Jiangnan Institute of Computing Technology. All of these are also identified by several aliases; Sugon, for example, is also known as Dawning.

Over the years, however, many of these companies have been involved in the Top500 list of supercomputers. As companies construct new supercomputers and new components are introduced, a supercomputer’s place on the list typically falls over time. But Sugon, for example, manufactured the Advanced Computing System (PreE), the 43rd most powerful supercomputer in the world as of June 2019.

Sugon, the Wuxi Jiangnan Institute of Computing Technology, and the National University of Defense Technology are all involved on developing exascale-class supercomputers, which the U.S. government believes could be or are being used for military purposes. 

Quietly, Chinese firms have begun developing their own world-class processors, though you won’t see them in PCs or even servers shipped outside the United States. The Wuxi Jiangnan Institute, for example, is believed to have developed the Sunway chips, which power the Sunway TaihuLight, the third most powerful supercomputer in the world. The TaihuLight was a system developed by China’s National Research Center of Parallel Computer Engineering & Technology (NRCPC) and installed at the National Supercomputing Center in Wuxi. It holds more than 10 million Sunway SW26010 cores, generating more than 93 petaflops of computing power.

Sugon’s PreE uses over 160,000 cores of the Hygon Dhyana, the chip that originated from the THATIC partnership with AMD. (ServetheHome spotted one in the wild at Computex, which apparently is a clone of AMD’s Epyc chip.) Lisa Su, AMD’s chief executive, downplayed the THATIC relationship at Computex, saying that the license covered a “single generation of technology devices”.

The additions to the entity list are just the latest Trump Administration actions against China, as the U.S. also seeks to impose tariffs on the import of Chinese goods. Those tariffs, according to the Consumer Technology Association, will add over $100 to the price of a typical notebook PC.

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