The world's first commercially available computer that performs over one trillion calculations a second (one teraflops)is the T3E-900 from Cray Research. The successor to the T3E parallel processing system performs at 1.8 teraflops and runs on up to 2,048 processors with a 450MHz clock speed.
Cray's parent Silicon Graphics positions the supercomputers as the top end of its workstation and server line, above the more mainstream Origin2000 super, a joint Cray/SGI development. The demand for performance above that mark will mainly come from government and research agencies. "Teraflops-level computing is important to a large number of our customers in government, university, research and industrial markets to handle the next generation of high resolution and high fidelity simulation problems," said Robert Ewald, president of Cray Research.
He said that the new computer could carry out a seismic task in the oil industry, for instance, that currently takes three months of computation, only a few days. It offers up to 50 per cent better performance than the T3E and 25 per cent better price/performance.
"Cray's strong performance in the high end supercomputer market is truly impressive," said Forest Baskett, chief technology officer at Silicon Graphics. He said the company has shipped 30 T3E systems, one third of them with more than 128 processors.
Shipments will start in the second quarter of 1997 with small configurations priced from $500,000.
Approaching the performance of the Cray machine will be the prototype MTA Multi-Threaded Architecture supercomputer from Tera Computer of Seattle, which should be unveiled next month. This will run on 700-plus processors and run Cray or Unix code virtually unaltered, the company claims. However, having gone through $33 million in funds in the past nine months, and with machines running several years late, observers question Tera's ability to challenge Cray.
A few years ago the race for a teraflops computer was a crowded one, with a clutch of supercomputer makers in the frame. Now, nearly all those start-ups - such as Thinking Machines, Kendall Square Research and BBN - have failed or been taken over. Even Cray itself is now owned by Silicon Graphics and Tera remains the only dedicated and independent supercomputer maker.
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