computing breakthrough - full text

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Wed, 10 Feb 1999 12:03:24 -0600

Salt Lake City, Utah. A Salt Lake City company announced today the production of the world’s first supercomputer capable of performing 12.84 trillion calculations per second, or 12.84 TeraOPs. Star Bridge Systems, Inc. ("SBS"), the world leader in reconfigurable computing, said its HAL-4rW1ä Hypercomputerä system (nicknamed "Hal") began operating January 29.

The company said Hal is capable of operating at up to 60,000 times the speed of a 350-megahertz personal computer. SBS’s President, Alfred J. DiMora, stated: "Hal may be thousands of times faster than a PC, but it is still about the size of a PC (less than 4 cubic feet), sits on a desktop, weighs less than 150 pounds and plugs into a 110-volt wall outlet. There is nothing in the world like it."

Mr. DiMora continued, "This puts the world on notice that another breakthrough has come out of the garage to turn the computer world upside down."

According to SBS, Hal is the fastest supercomputer in the world for the majority of tasks performed by supercomputers. Hal is also more versatile than other supercomputers. With new, higher-order software developed by SBS Hal is portable across incompatible hardware platforms and supports most other operating systems.

In addition to all of the tasks traditionally performed by supercomputers, SBS’s Hypercomputer systems can perform the full range of functions requiring ultra-fast scaler processing, such as low-latency switching and routing (example: telecommunications switching) and digital broadband signal processing (examples: digital radio and satellite communications). All of this in the same piece of production-line hardware.

SBS says its Hypercomputer systems are just the tip of the iceberg. They are only one example of a fundamental breakthrough achieved by SBS’s Chief Technology Officer, Kent L. Gilson, the pioneer of reconfigurable computing. Gilson said, "Reconfigurable computing is the next generation computing environment and represents a full-fledged paradigm shift in computers and electronics."

Gilson continued, "Our high-performance supercomputers are just the first application we chose for our reconfigurable technology. Eventually, everything with a chip in it, from toasters to 3-D video to automobiles to personal computers, will operate with programmable chips using SBS’s new order of programmability. Our reconfigurable computing technology will span the entire domain of information technology and electronics."

SBS is in the process of securing numerous patents covering its Hypercomputer hardware and Vivaä software system, which is a combination programming language/tool set/operating system/graphic user interface enabling object-oriented programming of Hypercomputers much faster and easier than conventional programming.

Brent Ward, SBS’s Executive Vice President, noted, "HAL-4rW1 was fifteen years in the making. It uses 280 programmable chips from Xilinx Corporation, called field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) on thirty-six proprietary integrated circuit boards. These boards form a unique design yielding a degree of fault-recoverability (and hence reliability) unheard of in the world of supercomputers."

Ward added, "With our Viva software loaded into these chips, Hal operates in many ways like the human brain. The chips are reconfigured on-the-fly to do multiple computationally-intensive tasks in real time. This is truly computer architecture on demand."

Licenses for the HAL-4rW1 Hypercomputer system cost a minimum of $26 million. Because this technology is scaleable, a full range of systems which will be marketed starting with the HAL-.25rW1 Hypercomputer system which licences for $2 million.

SBS is both selling licenses outright and partnering with licensees to expand its Hypercomputer technology to a variety of applications. Initial applications being explored by potential licensees include terrestrial telecommunications, satellite telecommunications, Internet search engine, voice over IP and video compression for the broadcast media.

Below is a comparison between HAL-4rW1 and IBM’s Blue Pacific, previously the world’s fastest supercomputer.

                  COMPUTER COMPARISON

SBS’s HAL-4rW1 Hypercomputerä System. These systems are massively-parallel, reconfigurable, third-order programmable, ultra-tightly-coupled, fully linearly-scaleable, evolvable, asymmetrical multi-processors. They are plug-compatible supercomputers that surpass conventional supercomputers in features and performance, at a far more attractive price. Unlike any other supercomputer available, they perform a wide range of computationally-intensive tasks in real time in an extraordinarily small amount of hardware. Target market: All supercomputer applications and many applications beyond the capacity of conventional supercomputers.

IBM’s Blue Pacific Supercomputer. According to press releases from IBM and the U.S. Department of Energy, Blue Pacific was delivered to the Energy Department’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in October, 1998. IBM announced at the time that Blue Pacific was the world’s fastest computer. It is a one-of-a-kind machine assembled for Livermore, a nuclear weapons lab, for simulations that determine, without detonation, whether aging nuclear weapons are still operable. Target market: Some scientific applications.

                     SBS HAL-4rW1
                                       IBM Pacific
                                       Blue(per press
                     $26 Million
                                       $94 Million
                     - executing 4-bit
                     adder; 3.8 TeraOPs
                                       1.2 TeraOPs
                                       sustained 3.9
                                       TeraOPs peak
       Hard Disk Size:
                     100 GB to 18 TB
                                       75 TB
                                       5,856 Power PC
                                       604 processors

Memory: 8-100 GB variable with 50 nano-second latency worst case 2.6 TB of RAM distributed Power: 1600 watts (110 volts) 3.9 megawatts Disk Access: Up to 10 GB per second 10.6 GB per second Floor Space: 17" x 27 1/2" x 14" (3.78 cubic feet) 8,000 sq. ft. Length: 27 1/2 inches 228 yards
units laid end-to-end) Height: 14 inches Approximately 7 feet Cooling: Air (10 internal mini-fans) 280 tons of air conditioning powered by more than one megawatt of power Special Flooring: None required (desk-top and portable) Approximately 8,000 feet of computer flooring Ventilation: No special operating environment required Requires special operating environment Power Cable: 1 standard extension cord 5 miles of No. 4 power cable
(approximately 6
inches circumference) Copper/Optical Cable: 12 feet 50 miles of cable -- Eliezer S. Yudkowsky
Disclaimer: Unless otherwise specified, I'm not telling you everything I think I know.