August 31, 2010 AT 12:24 am

Homebrew Cray-1A – FGAcray

Fpga Cray

Homebrew Cray-1A via jwz.

As part two (see previous attempt) of my ongoing series in `computational necromancy,’ I’ve spent the last year and a half or so constructing my own 1/10-scale, binary-compatible, cycle-accurate Cray-1. [...] The Cray-1 is one of those iconic machines that just makes you say “Now that’s a super computer!” Sure, your iPhone is 10X faster, and it’s completely useless to own one, but admit it . . you really want one, don’t you? [...]

When I started building this, I thought “Oh, I’ll just swing by the ol’ Internet and find some groovy 70’s-era software to run on it.” It turns out I was wrong. One of the sad things about pre-internet machines (especially ones that were primarily purchased by 3-letter Government agencies) is that practically no software exists for them.

After searching the internet exhaustively, I contacted the Computer History Museum and they didn’t have any either. They also informed me that apparently SGI destroyed Cray’s old software archives before spinning them off again in the late 90’s. I filed a couple of FOIA requests with scary government agencies that also came up dry.



  1. Way back in 1982, I joined a startup company in Los Angeles that was doing computer graphics special effects for motion pictures — Digital Productions. Our main computing for rendering was done on a Cray-1 and later a Cray -XMP. We were one of the few Cray sites that did not have a TLA and was unclassified. I wrote software (in FORTRAN) on the Cray, but don’t have any of it still.

    Our biggest project was the CGI for the 1984 film The Last Starfighter.

    Those were the days!


  2. jwz’s excerpt left out the best quote of all:

    “Finally, Computer Engineer Barbie has an appropriate place to sit down!”

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