Ever consider that the world's fastest math whiz was as big as a meat freezer, had an insatiable thirst and didn't get out much? Soon this heavyweight will take a long-needed cross country trip, and come to rest in a place that others of its kind only dream of.
This brainiac is not an overweight science professor; it's an iconic supercomputer known as the Cray T-932 that just a decade ago had no rival anywhere in the world. The name alone inspires awe because Cray Inc. remains synonymous with state-of-the-art supercomputers. After a 10-year stint at Ford, the Cray was decommissioned in 2006.
Ford Motor Company's Chuck Schwab, Numerically Intensive Computing supervisor, thought it was a shame to throw the vaunted Cray T-932 into the scrap heap, so he contacted the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California, and offered to donate it. The museum was thrilled with the offer, and the supercomputer now will get a place among the most diverse and significant collection of computing-related artifacts in the world.
"In its day, the T-932 truly was a feat of engineering genius, and was in a class all its own," Schwab said. "These were not mass produced mainframes, but rather were exotic handmade machines that weighed 10 tons and were capable of solving the world's most challenging scientific problems. There were only 13 similar models ever produced."
All that work made its 52-layer circuit boards hot – so hot that it had an unquenchable thirst for liquid coolant. On a given day, it pumped nearly 300,000 gallons of non-conductive coolant through its core and into a stunning, elegantly lit waterfall. The T932 also had the distinction of being the first "wireless" supercomputer, using special electrically-activated connectors to tie modules together, instead of the conventional wires and cables.
"The Cray was more than just a great looking machine," Schwab said. "It played a significant role in Ford's recognized position as a leader in the use of computer-aided engineering."
Schwab said Ford acquired the Cray T-932 supercomputer in 1996 to provide processing power primarily for vehicle safety and durability testing. To gain efficiency and reduce costs, Ford replaced the T-932 with banks of less exotic, off-the-shelf processing modules that can be expanded and upgraded incrementally.
Dag Spicer, the museum's senior curator, said, "The Cray T-932 is an important historical artifact that will help the museum continue its mission of being home to the world's largest collection of historical computer pieces."
The Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California, is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization with a 25-year history as part of the former Boston Computer Museum. CHM preserves and presents the artifacts and stories of the information age and is dedicated to exploring the social impact of computing. CHM’s diverse collection of computing-related artifacts is the largest and most significant in the world. CHM brings computing history to life through an acclaimed speaker series, dynamic website, and onsite tours and exhibits. Current exhibits include “Mastering The Game: A History of Computer Chess,” “Innovation in the Valley,” and “Visible Storage,” featuring 600 key objects from the collection. A signature “Timeline of Computing History” exhibit will open in October 2009. For open hours and more information, visit: computerhistory.org or call +1 650.810.1010. Admission is free.