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Supercomputing with a Cosmic Cube.

The idea of a personal supercomputer--a desktop machine that speeds through millions of computations every second--appeals to many scientists and engineers. Whether simulating an electric circuit or tracking crystallizing molecules, such a computer could spend days dedicated to a single task. Researchers wouldn't have to scramble for the scarce hours of computer time available at a few supercomputer centers (SN: 9/29/84, p. 200). This dream now seems to be one step closer to reality with the recent unveiling of the iPSC family of computers from Intel Corp. in Beaverton, Ore.

Based on the "Cosmic Cube" concept developed at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena (SN: 2/16/85, p. 104). Intel has packaged 32 microprocessors, connected according to the geometry of a six-dimensional hypercube, into a sleek, silver 4-foot tower sitting on a 2-foot base. Larger models contains 64 or 128 processors. These computers are up to 24 times more powerful than commonly used superminicomputers like the VAX 11/780 and achieve up to four-tenths of the performance of a Cray-1 supercomputer. But while a supercomputer costs as much as $15 million, the iPSC computers carry prices that range from $150,000 to $520,000.

Intel took less than a year to design its new line of computers after obtaining a license from Caltech last year. "I was surprised by how quickly they moved once they decided to do it," says Caltech's Charles L. Seitz, who spent seven years designing the computer architecture that led to the experimental Cosmic Cube computer in 1983. "You always like to see the thing sthat you've babied along for so many years get spread around a bit."

This type of computer, called a concurrent computer because each processor independently works on a small portion of a much larger task, is only slightly harder to program than an ordinary computer. As a result of the Caltech research, says Seitz, Intel can also sell its machines with an operating system that "really works."
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Title Annotation:new personal supercomputer
Author:Peterson, Ivars
Publication:Science News
Date:Feb 23, 1985
Words:330
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