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CRAY 1

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USA, 1976

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Seymour Cray

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Description

The sad part of the story is that Seymour Cray still had ideas he wanted to bring to reality at the time he was killed in a car accident. But before he died, Cray left an amazing legacy by putting his personal stamp on a kind of machine that came to be known as the "supercomputer."

It looked like no other computer before, or for that matter, since. The Cray 1 was the world's first "supercomputer," a machine that leapfrogged existing technology when it was introduced in 1971.

And back then, you couldn't just order up fast processors from Intel. "There weren't any microprocessors," says Gwen Bell of The Computer Museum History Center. "These individual integrated circuits that are on the board performed different functions."

Each Cray 1, like this one at The Computer Museum History Center, took months to build. The hundreds of boards and thousands of wires had to fit just right. "It was really a hand-crafted machine," adds Bell. "You think of all these wires as a kind of mess, but each one has a precise length."

Essentially, this huge machine was a really powerful microprocessor; one that needed special cooling systems to keep from melting. In fact, Seymour Cray's employees ran these machines to warm their offices during chilly Minnesota winters. According to Bell, Cray was "a wonderful packager. He learned how to put things very close together at very high speeds, faster than anyone else could do it."

Part of Cray's secret was that he was a dreamer who didn't worry much about the price tag. He explained his philosophy in this 1974 speech: "In all of the machines that I've designed, cost has been very much a secondary consideration. Figure out how to build it as fast as possible, completely disregarding the cost of construction."

With computers growing more powerful and compact all the time, it's worth remembering that when you bought a Cray 1, you needed room for the big main unit, the huge power supply next door, and a couple of mainframe computers just to feed data into all this. Today, the Cray 1 is a museum piece. (1)

 

Specifications

The first major success in designing a supercumputer was the CRAY-1 which was anounced in 1976. One of the reasons why the CRAY-1 was such a successtory was that it could preform over a hundred million arithmetic operations per second. It was designed by Seymour R. Cray formally of Control Data Corporation but left in 1970 to start his own company Cray Reasearch INC, which was founded in 1972. The CRAY 1 had a top speed of 133 megaflops. The first system was installed at Los Alamos National Laboratory. If you went the conventional route and try to build one yourself using PC's it would take 200.00 of them all cross connected, or you could just purchuse 33.33 Sun4s. CRAY Reasearch INC made at least 16 of their fabulous CRAY 1's A tipical CRAY 1 cost in 1976 about 700,000 dollors. The nice thing about it is you could order the machine in any color you wished and it still holds true today.

The first Cray-1 system was installed at Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1976 for $8.8 million. It boasted a world-record speed of 133 million floating-point operations per second (133 megaflops) and an 8 megabyte (1 million word) main memory. The Cray-1's architecture reflected its designer's penchant for bridging technical hurdles with revolutionary ideas. In order to increase the speed of this system, the Cray-1 had a unique "C" shape which enabled integrated circuits to be closer together. No wire in the system was more than four feet long. To handle the intense heat generated by the computer, Cray developed an innovative refrigeration system using Freon.

Also unique was the Cray's use of low-density/very high-speed ECL circuits (that required liquid Freon for cooling in their cramped configuration), rather than high-density/slower speed devices. The combination of ECL and the three-quarter-circle structure gave the machine very high performance - 133 MFLOPS - in a relatively small package.

 

Price: $5 - $8.8 million

Units Shipped:  85

Technologies: Vector processing, 200,000 specialized low-density ECL integrated circuits, 100-160 MFLOPS performance

Software: Cray Operating System (COS), Cray Fortran Compiler, Cray Assembler Language

 

Chronology

1976  Cray 1 was designed by Seymour Cray



Go Back Last Updated on 14 March, 2013 For suggestions please mail the editors 



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