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The Supercomputer

What is a supercomputer? The term has traditionally meant any computer that can process 20 million math calculations per second. Today, a supercomputer is defined as the fastest computer available, and can be thousands of times faster than the typical home computer.

In the 1950s, Seymour Cray worked for Sperry Rand, playing a key role in the invention and design of an early supercomputer, the UNIVAC 1103. The UNIVAC was a landmark first-generation computer because of its high processing speed, and eventually became the first computer available for commercial use.

Cray, who wanted to build bigger, more powerful computers, decided to go on his own to pursue his ideas. In his Wisconsin home, Cray used up notebook after notebook, drawing out designs for more powerful computers by increasing the processing speed. In 1972 he founded Cray Research, and built a series of innovative supercomputers. The Cray-1 (his company's first) could perform 240,000,000 calculations per second. In 1985, he developed the Cray-2, which was even faster (1,200,000,000 calculations per second).

Thanks to these powerful machines, scientists and engineers can perform very complex mathematical procedures, which help them analyze vast amounts of data and predict what will happen in the real world -- even the weather.

[June 1996]

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