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July 9, 1990


By CBR Staff Writer

This week, Sterling, Virginia-based Star Technologies Inc will officially launch its Sparc-compatible supercomputing network compute server, the Star 910/VP. As expected (CI No 1,453), the machine tightly couples a 40MHz Sparc scalar processor, said to be capable of 40 RISC MIPS or 29 VAX MIPS peak, with a Texas Instruments 8847-based vector processor that can reportedly do 160 MFLOPS peak in single precision or 80 MFLOPS in double precision. The company casts the box as offering 20 times the compute performance of a Sun Sparcserver 490, Sun’s high-end server. However, Star officials maintain their machine complements rather than competes with the Sun line. In fact, they said that although they do not have any formal co-marketing agreements with Sun, the two companies have already made sales calls together, a statement a Sun spokeswoman denied to Electronic News. Star, a nine-year-old $40m-a-year public company known previously for its array processors and image generators, intends to manufacture the boxes in-house. Currently it has prototypes which will be sent to Sun Expo this month to show off the Sparc binary compatibility of its scalar processor. It plans to start shipping in September with serial production beginning in November. Although Star officials figure Sun’s primary thrust is the desktop and that it will not come out against them, Sun’s director of technical marketing, Bill Keating, noted that Sun has a whole division aimed at the high end. Sun, he said, is watching what happens to FPS Computing, for instance, which is building a Sparc-based supercomputer to deliver between 480 MFLOPS and 6.7 GFLOPS. If Sun decides to make a move up-the-scale, Keating admitted, it is far more likely to offer something in Star’s range first. Star says the 910/VP was designed from the ground up starting sometime last year. However, observers versed in supercomputing believe they notice a similarity between the 910/VP’s architecture and the Culler 7, a product designed a few years ago as a Personal Supercomputer that strapped an array processor to a Sparc chip and failed for lack of finance. The architect of that machine, Dr Glen Culler, is now vice-president of Star’s technology integration and heads Star’s research and development centre in California. Star denies that the 910 owes anything to Culler 7. There is also concern that Star may not have the applications software needed to break into supercomputing vertical markets. Companies like FPS believe third-party packages dominate supercomputer sites and claim a vendor will not be taken seriously without an array of them to offer from the beginning. Star, on the other hand, says supercomputer users write their own code and that while Star will offer third party applications in time, initially it will shoot to sell into scalar applications that will prove its credibility. The firm intends to piggyback on to Sun sites where groups of 10 to 20 engineers, already confirmed Sun users, need added capabilities. Star employs a vector cache memory in its design but the company maintains that this will not slow down the vectoring. Star’s spec sheets provide a Linpack benchmark for 100 by 100 Fortran execution against a Sparcserver 490 (3.8 for $114,000), a Convex C210 (17 for $595,000) and a VAX 9000/210 VP (18 for $1.4m). The Star 910 came in at a price of $216,000. A standard Star configuration offers a 20 slot cabinet, eight slot VMEbus, 40MHz CMOS-based Sparc scalar CPU, 160 MFLOPS vector CPU, 1Mb vector cache, vector DMA, 32Mb main memory expandable to 1Gb, VME/SCSI host adaptor, Ethernet controller, 150Mb quarter inch cartridge drive, 766Mb SCSI disk drive, SunOS, networking and applications development software. The company says the Star 910, listing for $99,950, can be field upgraded to vector capability. Initially the VP will be sold by the 20-man sales group that already sells Star’s other product lines. A dedicated sales force will come later. – Maureen O’Gara

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