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March 7, 1994

PARSYTEC UNVEILS FIRST FRUITS OF POWERPC+TRANSPUTER COMBINATION, BUT INMOS DELAY HAS COST A LOT OF BUSINESS

By CBR Staff Writer

German parallel computer manufacturer Parsytec GmbH, Aachen, last week launched its PowerPC-based parallel machines (CI No 2,356). As reported last November (CI No 2,307) Parsytec, hitherto an devotee of the SGS-Thomson Microelectronics BV Inmos Transputer, was forced to look for a different CPU because of Inmos’s inability to deliver the new T9000 Transputer on time. In the event, the company has produced hybrid processor boards, combining the processing power of 80MHz MPC601 PowerPC chips with T805 Transputers’ communications facilities. The conceptual architecture that Parsytec has employed presents the system to the software as a ‘virtual Transputer’ – the PowerPC chip acts rather like a co-processor, though it is actually supplying most of the MFLOPS. On the scientific processing front, the company launched two families of machines. The low-end, $20,000 desktop PowerXplorer has four computing nodes on two boards. Each node comprises an MPC601 and a T805 with 32Kb internal cache, linked by a shared bus to the 8Mb or 32Mb of main memory. The Transputer contributes 30 MIPS of processing power and its 8.8M-bytes-per-second communications bandwidth. Up to 16 of the boxes can be clustered together and Parsytec reckons one of these 64-node configurations will deliver up to 5 GFLOPS. First customers are the Joint European Torus project, which is taking a 10-node configuration, and British Aerospace Plc, which is not revealing its plans. Parsytec says that over 30 units will have been delivered worldwide by the end of March, growing to over 100 by May. Future systems in the family will incorporate MPC603, 604, and 620 processors. For computing in the 2.5 to 80 GFLOPS range Parsytec is scheduled to launch its GC/Powerplus machine this summer. The chunkier chassis of this machine can hold up to 32 nodes, four per slot-in board. Once again, The GC/Powerplus can be clustered – ad infinitum, say some in the company – though the official line is that configurations of up to 1,024 nodes are supported.

Begins sampling this month

Parsytec has not jettisoned the T9000 altogether however: Inmos now says that the troubled chip has reached pre-production status at its 8 wafer facility in Crolles, France. It begins sampling to major customers this month, clocked at 25MHz. Production will be ramped in the second quarter and in the third quarter the company expects to start selling 30MHz parts. The supercomputer builder intends to make some T9000-based boards, if requested by major customers, on the grounds that Transputers and PowerPCs have slightly different competencies. For parallel tasks where computational power is the bottleneck, the PowerPC wins hands down. However some tasks are bounded by the complexity of the communications between processors – in this case the Transputer is more appropriate. Parsytec says that its Parix software development environment can cope with a mixture of node types, so that particular tasks can be assigned to either type of processor. Only about three fifths of Parsytec’s $16.9m revenue comes from supercomputing, the rest is down to embedded applications, mainly in the image processing area. It is, for example, working with Daimler Benz AG on self-steering cars. Consequently it has launched the TPM-MPC symbolic image processing and the TIP-IPP, dedicated image pre-processing boards. As with the supercomputers, Parsytec is using a combination of PowerPC and Transputers. While it is the smaller slice of cake at the moment, Falk Kubler, managing director and major shareholder of Parsytec GmbH foresees a time in the not too distant future when it will be the majority of the business. The Parsytec design win is obviously a boon for the PowerPC community, but it was achieved through special circumstances how many computer manufacturers suddenly find that the processor they were expecting fails to materialise? Parsytec UK managing director Richard Horton admits candidly that, had the T9000 been available two years ago, it is unlikely that his company would be using PowerPCs today. Still, Kubler predicts t

hat Parsytec will be only the first of many to adopt the PowerPC chip to build parallel supercomputers: if there aren’t others it means that we have made the wrong decision he observes, smiling. Word is that there are indeed other machines on the way.

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