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January 12, 1988


By CBR Staff Writer

Despite the promise that it will be bankrolled by IBM, Steve Chen’s new Supercomputer Systems Inc company is looking for additional finance from a state government and from a potential major user of his machine – now called the SS-1 – who would help to design it. Backing from the US government, concerned that Japan is moving ahead of the US, and ties with other companies that have technology he may need are also possible. In the first interviews he has given since forming the company, Chen said that unlike the Fujitsu supercomputers, the machine would not be IBM compatible – although IBM mainframes are expected to be used as front-end processors. On the technology front, Chen expects to get substantial parts of what he needs from IBM, including both chips and peripherals, and says that technology exchange is already under way, although the financing agreement will take another three months to complete. He says that Cray Research’s estimate of $100m to develop the machine was as accurate as he could get at this early stage. He said that he would take a particularly close look at IBM’s superconductor technology, but Supercomputer Systems would go elsewhere or manufacture itself anything it could not get from IBM. A prototype of the SS-1, with 64 or more processors and a 120Gflops rating – although Chen prefers to measure performance in solution time – should be out in 1992 or 1993, and he looks for profitability a year after the prototype comes out. A key feature of the machine will be windows enabling users to watch parts of their programs running and alter them on the fly. Currently based in an old Unisys plant in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, Chen is wavering between that state and a rival offer from the Champaign-Urbana region of Illinois as the permanent base. Staffing, with 45 employees, is almost complete.

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