The announcement of the new MacPro, capable of providing between 2.2 and 3.5 teraflops in computational performance is making headlines in Japan because, due to the local regulations, it goes beyond the officially established threshold for a “supercomputer”.
In Japan every computer with a computational performance over 1.5 teraflops is considered a “supercomputer” and goes under special regulations for procurement (purchase, rental and lease) by institutions and similar entities. You can check the full set of regulations here. It’s worth mentioning that the document identifies 300 megaflops as the threshold, but that’s because it was initially drawn in 1990. The limit has been raised several times since, up to 1.5 teraflops in 2005.
Guess what’s another machine that goes well over the 1.5 teraflops threshold? The PS4, with its GPU capable of providing 1.84 teraflops. On the other hand the Xbox One is just under that threshold, reaching 1.33 teraflops under its glossy black hood.
While Microsoft’s Interactive Entertainment Honcho Phil Harrison thinks that teraflops don’t matter, the Japanese embassy seems to care enough to send an official letter to the US government to communicate the revision of the threshold to 1.5 teraflops.
If the regulations mentioned above were to be applied to the PS4, there could be a measure of hindrances in the purchase of the console by Japanese institutions like research institutes and schools. While this isn’t exactly what I’d consider a big deal, the acquisition and usage of gaming consoles by this kind of institutes is definitely not unprecedented.
That said, the Japanese government can unilaterally revise the threshold “as necessary,” and considering that a simple home console dedicated to games now falls beyond it, it’s most likely that said a revision will come soon.
Looks like Lead Architect Mark Cerny wasn’t joking when he defined the PS4 a “Supercharged PC…”