The new Domain 10000 personal supercomputer represents such a critical departure for fastgrowing workstation builder Apollo Computer Inc that the company took journalists from all over the world over to Boston for the launch. John Abbott made the trip.
Apollo Computer has in the past been accused of being overly modest and hanging back on its achievements said company chairman and chief executive Tom Vanderslice at the Boston, Massachusetts launch of the new Series 10000 personal supercomputers earlier this month. If so, then the tough workstation market has knocked the reticence out of the company, for the presentation was littered with references to competitors, including the claim that the Series 10000 could deliver up to thirteen times the total throughput of arch rival Sun Microsystems’ top-end SPARC-based 4/200. Asked users Apollo says it asked users what technological developments they would like to see when it began work on the Series 10000 back at the beginning of 1986. The answer was that most were looking for a supercomputer on the desk, with big integer performance and extremely high floating point performance, backed up by fast memory and input-output support. Other factors were open standards, software compatibility with existing applications, and expandable computational performance. To implement this type of product, Apollo went back to the drawing board and designed from scratch a new architecture called Prism – Parallel Reduced Instruction Set Multiprocessor – which borrowed techniques from supercomputers to support its proprietary RISC chip set. The processor itself, rated at 8 MFLOPS on single precision Linpack, is claimed to represent a more fundamental approach to RISC than existing systems, with a powerful instruction set including single cycle loadstores, fixed length instructions, and delayed branching. Each processor combines an integer processing unit with floating point unit both are independent but tightly integrated – and this avoids the overhead problems sometimes associated with floating point co processors. The integer processor is a 1.5 micron semicustom CMOS VLSI RISC-based design, while the floating point unit features a semicustom CMOS register file, and independent arithmetic-logic unit and multiplier in ECL technology for speed. Each processor has dual caches, a 128Kb one for instructions and a 64Kb one for data. Taking the supercomputer as its reference model, Apollo has included 64-bit data paths and registers, and has designed a 64-bit 150Mbyte-per-second X-bus for communications from processor to main memory and other processors. The wide data paths allow simultaneous integer processor and floating point unit instruction despatch and parallel execution of up to three operations. Data Flow compilers, using expert system techniques, detect parallelism in code to help take advantage of multiprocessor configurations. Up to four independent processors, each including integer processor, floating point unit, cache and memory management unit can be supported, with multiprocessor task management controlled by the operating system, Apollo’s recently launched Domain/OS implementation of combined Unix System V.3, Berkeley 4.3 and its original proprietary Aegis. Shared operating system code means that each processor selects the next highest priority process from a common ready process queue. Other features of the 10000 system include up to 128Mb of 16-way interleaved main memory, shared virtual memory, additional VME and AT-compatible buses, and high performance disk drives. be prepared to license its Prism technology to other vendors, it qualified the statement to include only specialised vendors and not direct competitors. The processor boards are currently being made by Toshiba Corp in Japan and VLSI Technology Inc, Santa Clara, California. Initially, the Series 10000 will be available in server or computational workstation configurations, but later this year a graphics model will be launched, which will include a specialised RISC drawing engine and frame buffer. Prices begin a $
79,900 for a DN10010-E, with 8Mb memory, 19 display, 8-plane colour and 348Mb disk. This compares with $65,400 for a similarly configured Sun 4/260C, but Apollo claims it represents a cut in per-MFLOPs price from a little under $60,000 on the Sun to around $16,000 on its own box. Take gas After Sun’s launch of the SPARC processor back in May last year, and its subsequent launch of the Sun 4 range of workstations, Apollo was perceived by the general marketplace as having fallen behind in the technological race. According to Russ Barber this was a necessary, though painful period: we could have had a seven-to-10 MIPS workstation ready by the end of 1987, but we didn’t want to just another member of the pack, so we decided to take gas for six months. Of course Apollo still does not have a competitor for the Sun 4, but it says it will be announcing performance boosts for its Series 3000 and 4000 workstations including 68030-based systems according to Vanderslice – later on in the year. It will also be moving its Prism architecture systems downwards as well as upwards, anticipating that in 18 months time, full half of its revenues will be accounted for by Prism systems. Meanwhile the Chelmsford, Massachusetts company has a different pack to contend with – the challenge from similarly targeted systems from start-ups Ardent Computer and Stellar Computer, and from its more established rival Silicon Graphics, which claims to have been the first to exploit the real time three-dimensional graphics marketplace. And these won’t be the only ones to enter the market, according to Dr Egil Juluissen, formerly of Future Computing, now with the hardware testing outfit Workstation Laboratories Inc, in Dallas, Texas. What we are seeing is the next generation of workstation technology, providing the mainframe power you need for running three-dimensional CAD/CAM and CAD/CAE on a workstation. Sun and others will do that too. It’s a good market.