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Funding a faster supercomputer.

Getting a group of people to work together efficiently is a demanding task that often requires a skilled manager. Computer designers and programmers are now looking for the electronic equivalent of such a manager to cope with "multiprocessor" computers. Each of the many processors built into this type of computer can independently retrieve data from memory locations, do arithmetic operations like addition or perform other simple operations. Yet the computer must quickly come up with a "consensus"--a single, correct answer. Last week, the Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Science Foundation awarded grants totaling $9 million to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to pursue this problem.

David Kuck, director of the university's new Center for Super-computing Research, and his colleagues plan to build an experimental supercomputer, called the "Cedar" system, to test their ideas. The problem is to connect the computer hardware and software in such a way that all the multiprocessing occurs in an organized, productive and fast way, says Kuck. This project is unusual because, to achieve high speeds, it relies on clever ways of linking the processors and then writing computer programs that take advantage of these arrangements rather than on advances in computer chip technology.

DOE also helps fund two other large supercomputing research programs. At the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Charles L. Seitz, Geoffrey Fox and their colleagues aim to build a computer that fits on a desktop but still has 50 times the power of a Cray-1 supercomputer at a fraction of the Cray's current price. The researchers already have one experimental machine, completed last October and dubbed "The Cosmic Cube," in which 64 identical microprocessors are connected in a communications network based on a six-dimensional cube.

At New York University's Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences in New York City, researchers are working on the "ULTRAcomputer" project. In this "dataflow" computer, hundreds of thousands of processors share one massive memory, communicating with it through a switching network that keeps the processors synchronized. Instead of searching the memory for the data needed to do a certain computation, each processor patiently waits until the essential bits of data arrive so that it can do its job (SN: 6/16/84, p. 378).
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Title Annotation:Department of Energy grants
Publication:Science News
Date:Feb 16, 1985
Words:371
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