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December 16, 1987


By CBR Staff Writer

The Edinburgh Concurrent Computer Project hit the news last Friday when plans for the installation of a UKP3m parallel processing environment based on the Inmos Transputer were revealed (CI No 830). The university has already part-installed the 1 GFLOPS Computing Surface, which has 4Gb of memory and comes from Meiko Ltd of Bristol. A spine of 200 T800 Transputers – RISC chips with 4Mb of memory and floating point capability – has so far been put in place. A further 32 T414 type Transputers – with no floating point capability – can be logged on to the T800s to develop applications before they are added to the spine. The full complement of 1,000 Transputers is expected to be reached after a second round of funding has been approved. David Alden, one of the founders of UKP10m-a-year Meiko, believes the Computing Surface is unique. Whereas most large computers have a fixed balance between processing, input-output, graphics and so on, the capability of the Surface can be altered to make it suitable for any task. The Edinburgh Concurrent Supercomputer Project has installed the processing environment with funding from the Department of Trade and Industry which contributed around UKP575,000, plus UKP400,000 each from the Science and Engineering Research Council and the Computer Board for Universities. In addition, the project’s first industrial partner, Hewlett-Packard Ltd, has donated $100,000 of Winchester disk drives and $50,000 in cash. In return it gets a place on the decision-making board, dial-up access to the computer and a share in projects run by the university. The project was set up a year ago with Industry Department funding and an ICL-developed Distributed Array Processor to investigate work with parallel processing; simply described as the use of more than one procesor at the same time to work on a problem. Meiko, set up by ex-Inmos International employees, says that although sales of the Computing Surface have been made overseas – General Electric Co, GE, is currently carrying out research into the compression of Compact Disk Read-Only Memory applications at the David Sarnoff Research Laboratory in Princeton, New Jersey – this is the first in the UK. It will allow interested parties to test the machine before committing to buying it and Meiko hopes the project will lead to further UK sales. Edinburgh University will be using the machine to investigate neural networking which involves simulating processes in the brain to see how the cells interact. Molecular biologists may use it to study the structure of DNA and some work on the AIDS virus may be carried out.

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