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  1. Technology
April 12, 1988


By CBR Staff Writer

In the first application of Inmos Ltd technology in one of its products since it acquired the chipmaker in 1984, Thorn EMI Plc yesterday unveiled a new parallel processing minisupercomputer based on the Inmos T800 Transputer. The new machine is the Parsys SN 1000, jointly developed by Thorn and Inmos with Aptor SA of Meylan, Telmat SA of Soultz, the Royal Signals & Radar Establishment, and the universities of Southampton and Grenoble under an EEC Esprit project. The machine is rated at between 25 MFLOPs and 400 MFLOPS, and Thorn reckons it could be extended to 1.5 GFLOPS. Described as a modular reconfigurable processor, the SN 1000 is built up of Transputer nodes, each rated at 25 MFLOPS, under the management of a node controller, and multiple notes can be interconnected by means of an Outer Level Controller. Each node consists of at least two Transputers, one the worker, the other the support Transputer, the latter handling input-output and control functions, including reconfiguration. The workers each have either 4Mb of dynamic or 256Kb of static private memory, and each node will typically also include a disk server Transputer with 16Mb cache and 100Mb to 200Mb of disk. Separate global disk memory for multi-node machines is also supported. Additional worker boards can be added to each node, and a Tandem Node configuration allows up to 64 workers to be plugged into a double backplane. The SN 1000 is designed to be used as a back end to a host control workstation, which can be a Sun, an IBM PS/2, an MS-DOS micro or DEC VAX or MicroVAX. Both within a node and between nodes, connections between Transputers can be set under software control using specially designed applications specific chips. The configuration can therefore be altered between tasks or from within an application, and several different applications or tasks can be running concurrently in different parts of the machine. The operating system is Whitesmiths Ltd’s Idris slimline Unixalike, which is described as Posix-conformant, or the Inmos TDS Terminal Development System executive with the main operating system running on the host. Languages on offer are Fortran, Pascal, C and Occam, and a minimum configuration SN 1000 will be around UKP35,000. The machine is clearly a long way from being a fully defined and bedded down product, and Thorn is actively seeking partners to exploit the technology worldwide.

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