Army is first customer for brand-new Cray X1

The Cray X1 supercomputer removes excess heat from its multichip modules with a spray of inert coolant.

After four years of federally subsidized development by Cray Inc. of Seattle, the new Cray X1 supercomputer weds the vector architecture of its Cray ancestors to modern massively parallel designs.

The X1 can scale up to more than 50 trillion floating-point operations per second, said Steve Scott, the chief architect. If so benchmarked, it would rank among the world's fastest computers.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Cray Research Inc. designs used a small number of tightly coupled, fast vector processors. In 1995, the Cray T3E changed to large numbers of 64-bit Digital Alpha commodity processors.

The Cray X1 has custom 800-MHz vector processors, each rated at 12.8 billion floating-point operations per second in 64-bit mode and 25.6 GFLOPS in 32-bit mode.

Linked through a high-bandwidth interconnect fabric, the new processors can calculate complex mathematics faster than commodity processors, Scott said.

The processors occupy eight-CPU multichip modules, each sharing a cache with a maximum bandwidth of 76 Gbps. In the maximum configuration of 64 cabinets, the Cray X1 could hold 4,096 CPUs and up to 65.5T of memory for peak performance of 52.4 TFLOPS.

The multichip modules stay cool via small nozzles that spray an inert liquid called Fluorinert, which boils off and is recycled, Scott said. Air or chilled water cools the rest of the chassis.

The company received $50 million in federal funds over the course of designing the X1. Defense and intelligence agencies 'helped fund the kind of machine they knew they needed'a real supercomputer instead of 'to infinity and beyond,' ' Scott said, referring to massively parallel computers.

Last fall Cray delivered five early production X1 systems, two to the Army High-Performance Computing Resource Center in Minneapolis and three to classified government locations.

In January, Cray announced a $15 million order from the Army's Minneapolis center. The company will upgrade the center's first X1s to full production systems and will install a third full X1, Cray spokesman Steve Conway said.

In addition, the Arctic Region Supercomputing System in Fairbanks, Alaska, another center that gets funding from the Defense Department's High-Performance Computing Modernization Program, has ordered a $16.4 million, 128-processor X1 system that will be installed this summer.

Uncle Sam's help

Cray continues to receive $10 million to $15 million per year in federal support for development, said Gerald E. Loe, vice president of worldwide sales and services. The company is designing a new system, code-named Black Widow, for a mid-decade debut.

Cray signed up for the 1999 challenge issued by the President's IT Advisory Committee to build a system by 2010 that could sustain 1 quadrillion floating-point operations per second, or 1 PFLOPS, Conway said.

An eight-processor Cray X1 starts around $2.5 million, Loe said.

Contact Cray at 206-701-2000.

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