Monday, March 10, 2008


The term Super Computing was first used by New York World newspaper in 1920 to refer to the huge custom built tabulators IBM had made for Columbia University. A supercomputer is a computer that leads the world in terms of processing capacity, mostly speed of calculation, at the time of its introduction. Supercomputers introduced in the 1960s were designed mainly by Seymour Cray at Control Data Corporation (CDC), and led the market into the 1970s until Cray left to form his own company, Cray Research. He then took over the supercomputer market with his original designs, holding the top spot in supercomputing for 5 years (1985–1990). In the 1980s a large number of smaller competitors entered the market, in a parallel to the making of the minicomputer market a decade earlier, but many of these disappeared in the mid-1990s "supercomputer market crash". Today, supercomputers are characteristically one-of-a-kind custom designs produced by "traditional" companies such as IBM and HP, who had purchased many of the 1980s companies to gain their experience, although Cray Inc. still specializes in structure supercomputers.

The term supercomputer itself is rather fluid, and today's supercomputer tends to become tomorrow's also-ran. CDC's near the beginning machines were simply very fast single processors, some ten times the speed of the fastest machines offered by other companies. In the 1970s most supercomputers were dedicated to running a vector processor, and a lot of the newer players developed their own such processors at lower price points to enter the market. In the later 1980s and 1990s, attention turned from vector processors to enormous parallel processing systems with thousands of simple CPUs; some being off the shelf units and others being custom designs. Today, parallel designs are based on "off the shelf" RISC microprocessors, such as the PowerPC or PA-RISC, and most current supercomputers are now highly-tuned computer clusters using commodity processors combined with custom interconnects.

No comments: