[Coco] $1,000 supercomputer

Bootstrap Bill billcousert at yahoo.com
Sat Jul 17 14:17:39 EDT 2004

(my computer froze while posting this. I apologize if it's posted twice).

The following was published in 1999. It claims that we could have a $1,000
computer capable of processing 100 billion instructions per second within 18
months. It's been over five years and still no word from the company. Has
anyone heard anything about this? I want one!


A $1000 supercomputer?

June 15, 1999
Web posted at: 8:46 a.m. EDT (1246 GMT)

by Mark Brownstein

(IDG) -- Within 18 months, you may be able to put the equivalent of today's
supercomputer on your desktop--for about $1000. The CPU, long the heart of
all PCs, may be an unnecessary component in tomorrow's high-performance

The new computer will be able to process 100 billion instructions per
second, according to Kent Gilson, chief technical officer of Star Bridge
Systems. Company representatives discussed their plans for a high-end PC
this week while announcing HAL-300GrW1, a "hypercomputer" that is said to be
60,000 times as fast as a 350-MHz Pentium, and many times as fast as IBM's
supercomputer Pacific Blue. (The test used to measure the HAL's performance
was different from the measure used for Pacific Blue, so exact comparisons
are difficult.)

The new $1000 computer will be "three orders of magnitude different in
price-performance [ratio]" from today's PCs, Gilson claims. It will fill
many of the roles of a supercomputer, such as voice recognition, natural
language processing, and holographic displays, he says. What's more, Gilson
says, this super-PC will "run PC applications in emulation mode, in a manner
similar to how the DEC Alpha runs NT, but it will run it a lot faster."

HAL comes first

Although Gilson claims the hardware for such a PC is ready now, and that
Star Bridge Systems has completed the programming language, called Viva, the
company's initial focus is on its high-end hypercomputer line, HAL. The
HAL-300GrW1 has a price tag of about $26 million, so it doesn't take a
hypercomputer to understand why Star Bridge Systems has chosen to direct its
attention to the HAL line first.

"We're a small company. If we came out with a PC, we wouldn't be able to
sell enough [to fund the company], but we can sell hundreds a year of the
high-end ones, so it just makes sense," Gilson says.

In today's computing terms, the architecture Star Bridge Systems has
developed is a "massively parallel, ultratightly coupled, asymmetrical
multiprocessor." It is based on a processor called a field programmable gate
array, Gilson says. FPGAs can be programmed on the fly, so their
configuration can be changed to perform the particular task at hand most

FPGAs can be changed thousands of times per second. So in essence, an FPGA
can become a specially designed CPU tailored to perform a required task
right when you need the new processing architecture.

The traditional CPU, by contrast, has a fixed instruction set that is burnt
into silicon. Programming instructions are written to work with the
instruction set, and are limited by the capabilities built into it.

Suitcase supercomputer

Star Bridge Systems had sold one HAL computer upon the line's announcement.
For one sales pitch, Gilson showed off what he calls a "HAL Junior"--a model
that fits into a suitcase but delivers 640 billion instructions per second.

The company has mapped out a series of hypercomputer systems, ranging in
performance from the HAL-10GrW1, capable of conducting 10 billion
floating-point operations per second, to a HAL-100TrW1, which conducts 100
trillion floating point operations per second. The company is also selling
signal-processing products (switches and routers) based on its HAL
technology. These network products are designed for scientific
supercomputing and extremely high-demand telecommunications.

Meanwhile, Star Bridge Systems representatives are speaking with major
companies that have expressed interest in HAL, and that undoubtedly wonder
whether the system can deliver the performance promised. Initial targets are
those currently using supercomputers, and those who might see this as a
higher-performance, lower-cost supercomputer.

"Eventually, reconfigurable computing [a term coined by Gilson, referring to
the underlying technology behind the hypercomputer] will permeate all
information systems, just because it's faster, cheaper, and better," Gilson

"It's easy enough to be pleasant, when life hums along like a song.
But the man worth while is the man who can smile when
everything goes dead wrong.".

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