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MAKING THE MODERN WORLD
Stories about the lives we've made

Icon:Cray-1A supercomputer, c.1976

related ingenious images © Science Museum/Science and Society Picture Library

Seymour Cray was the founder of the high-performance computer industry. In 1960 Cray helped to create the Control Data Corporation and designed CDC 1604, the first fully transistorised, large, scientific computer. In 1972 he started his own company, Cray Research, at Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, USA, and created the Cray-1A, the first in a series of groundbreaking supercomputers.

The computer mainframe consists of 12 wedge-shaped columns placed in an arc. This cylindrical shape was chosen in order to keep the wiring distances short and to reduce the time it took signals to pass along the wires. It also has a Freon cooling system and an early form of vector processing that allowed the computer to achieve then-unrivalled operating speeds.

Cray's designs embodied innovative technology and a great aesthetic sense, but he liked to work with simple tools - often a pencil and paper. It is said that when he was told Apple had bought a Cray to simulate their next desktop machine he remarked: 'Funny, I am using an Apple to simulate the Cray-3'.

The machine here cost £8 million in 1979 and was installed at Aldermaston Atomic Weapons Establishment in England, where it remained in use until July 1990 - the last operating Cray-1A in the world.

Inv. 1991-159
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