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  1. Technology
February 1, 1988


By CBR Staff Writer

The minisupercomputer market has become so overcrowded and competitive that players are having to enhance their machines at an uncomfortable rate merely to maintain their position. Alliant Computer Systems Corp, Littleton, Massachusetts has rushed out two new systems to replace its existing FX/8 product, and is putting the previously proprietary specifications of its instruction set for parallel execution into the public domain to encourage application development. The company claims to have around 100 applications running on the FX series under its Concentrix implementation of the Berkeley Unix operating system, and has added support for Sun’s Network File System and News, Apollo’s Network Computing System, X Window, TCP/IP on Ethernet and Hyperchannel, FX/C, FX/Ada and Pascal compilers. In the new FX/40 and FX/80 systems, the Computational Element proprietary 64-bit processor used in the FX/8 has been enhanced with new features that the company claims speed parallel execution. It has a new vector processor with reduced vector start-up time and ECL floating point units that, according to Alliant, improve the peak rating to 23.6 MFLOPS, twice that of the original processor. The new Advanced Computational Elements are plug-compatible replacements for the existing boards and sell for UKP38,000. A new version of Alliant’s VAX/VMS-compatible FX-Fortran – Version 4.0 – can detect code that can be vectorised and run in parallel, and produces a Whetstone rating of 14.7 MIPS. The multiple 68020 based Interactive Processors, which run DEC VAX and workstation utilities and leave the the Computational Elements free for complex computations. The new systems will be shipped during this quarter. The entry-level FX/40 comes in at UKP105,000 and includes one Advanced Computing Element, expandable to three, one VME-based Interactive Processor, expandable to five, 32Mb main memory – expandable to 160Mb – 1.1Gb disk storage, and a cartridge tape drive. The entry-level FX/80 at UKP210,000 has two Computing Elements, expandable to six, five interactives, 32Mb main memory – expandable to 256Mb – one 16-line multiplexer, 1.1Gb disk storage in parallel transfer striped configuration, and a tri-density magnetic tape drive. The company is looking at opening application development centres both in Europe and Japan and will expand its European presence with offices in West Germany and Italy: it is now in the UK, France and Holland. A sales and service centre is planned for Japan. It has sold 200 FXs so far, 160 itself in the US, 40 through Apollo in the rest of the world. The US Army is the company’s leading customer, taking 20 systems; AT&T comes a close second with 17.

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