previous sub-section
Supercomputing Alternatives
next sub-section

Superworkstations

This machine class, judging by the figures in Table 1, is the most vigorous of all technical computer categories, as it is attracting the majority of buyers and supplying the bulk of the capacity for high-performance technical computing. In 1989, superworkstation installations reached more users than the NSF centers did, delivering four times the computational capacity and power supplied by the CRAY Y-MP/8.

Dataquest's nomenclature for this machine class—superworkstations—actually comprises two kinds of machines: graphics supercomputers and superworkstations. Graphics supercomputers were introduced in 1988 and combine varying degrees of supercomputer capacity with integral three-dimensional graphics capabilities for project and departmental use (i.e., multiple users per system) at costs ranging between $50,000 and $200,000. Priced even more aggressively, at $25,000 to $50,000, superworkstations make similar features affordable for personal use.

Machines of this class from Apollo (Hewlett-Packard), Silicon Graphics, Stardent, and most recently from IBM all provide between 10 and 20 per cent of the computational capacity of a CRAY Y-MP processor, as characterized by the Livermore Loops workload. They also run the LINPACK 100-×-100 benchmark at about 12 per cent of the speed of a one-processor Y-MP. While the LINPACK peak of such machines is only two per cent of an eight-processor CRAY Y-MP, the distributed approach of the superworkstations is almost three times more cost effective. In other words, users spending the same amount can get three to five times


319

as much computing from superworkstations and graphics supercomputers than from a conventional supercomputer.

In March 1990, IBM announced its RS/6000 superscalar workstation, which stands out with exceptional performance and price performance. Several researchers have reported running programs at the same speed as the CRAY Y-MP. The RS/6000's workload ability measured by the Livermore Loops is about one-third that of a CRAY Y-MP processor.

Superworkstations promise the most benefits for the decade ahead because they conjoin more leading-edge developments than any other class of technical computer, including technologies that improve performance and reduce costs, interactivity, personal visualization, smarter compiler technologies, and the downward migration of super applications. More importantly, superworkstations provide for interactive visualization in the same style that PCs and workstations used to stabilize mainframe and minicomputer growth. Radically new applications will spring up around this new tool that are not versions of tired 20-year-old code that ran on the supercomputer, mainframe, and minicode museums. These will come predominantly from science and engineering problems, but most financial institutions are applying supercomputers for econometric modeling, work optimization, portfolio analysis, etc.

Because these machines are all based on fast-evolving technologies, including single-chip RISC microprocessors and CMOS, we can expect performance gains to continue at the rate of over 50 per cent a year over the next five years. We'll also see continuing improvements in clock-rate growth to more than 100 megahertz by 1992. By riding the CMOS technology curve, future superworkstation previous hit architectures next hit will likely be able to provide more power for most scientific applications than will be available from the more costly multiple-chip systems based on arrays of ECL and GaAs (gallium arsenide) gates. Of course, the bigger gains will come through the use of multiple of these low-cost processors for parallel processing.


previous sub-section
Supercomputing Alternatives
next sub-section