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The Cray-1 was a supercomputer designed, manufactured, and marketed by Cray Research. The first Cray-1 system was installed at Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1976, and it went on to become one of the best known and most successful supercomputers in history. The Cray-1's architect was Seymour Cray and the chief engineer was Cray Research co-founder Lester Davis.[1]



In the years 1968 to 1972 Cray was working at Control Data on a new machine known as the CDC 8600, the logical successor to his earlier CDC 6600 and CDC 7600 designs. The 8600 was essentially made up of four 7600s in a box, with an additional special mode that allowed them to operate lock-step in a SIMD fashion.

Jim Thornton, formerly Cray's engineering partner on earlier designs, had started a more radical project known as the CDC STAR-100. Unlike the 8600's brute-force approach to performance, the STAR took an entirely different route. In fact the main processor of the STAR had less performance than the 7600, but added additional hardware and instructions to speed up particularly common supercomputer tasks.

In 1972 the 8600 had reached a dead end. The machine was so incredibly complex that it was impossible to get one working properly; even a single faulty component would render the machine non-operational. Cray went to William Norris, Control Data's CEO, saying that a redesign from scratch was needed. At the time the company was in serious financial trouble, and with the STAR in the pipeline as well, Norris simply couldn't invest the money.

Cray left. Starting a new company HQ only yards from the CDC lab, both in the back yard of land he purchased in Chippewa Falls, WI, he and a group of former CDC employees started looking for ideas. At first the concept of building another supercomputer seemed impossible, but after the CTO traveled to Wall Street and found a lineup of investors more than willing to back Cray, all that was needed was a design.

In 1975 the 80 MHz Cray-1 was announced. Excitement was so high that a bidding war for the first machine broke out between Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Los Alamos National Laboratory, the latter eventually winning and receiving serial number 001 in 1976 for a six-month trial. The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) was Cray Research's first official customer in 1977, paying US$8.86 million ($7.9 million plus $1 million for the disks) for serial number 3. The NCAR machine was decommissioned in 1989.[2] The company expected to sell perhaps a dozen of the machines, and set the selling price accordingly, but over eighty Cray-1s of all types were sold, priced from $5M to $8M. The machine made Cray a celebrity and the company a success, lasting until the supercomputer crash in the early 1990s.

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