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Network Cabinet

September 27th, 2013

How does a CRAY supercomputer work?

I mean, is it acutally an entire computer itself, or is it sort of like a device attached to a PC and is accessed through interface programs? I mean, could I just like, install Half-Life 2 or Doom 3 on it and play? Just curious. Am coming across a large sum of money and am contemplating purchasing one slightly used by the local college.

It's a bespoke, highly specialised bit of computing equipment... though five or ten gigabit networked Pentium-4s with the right software could probably outrun it with ease. It's all housed in some big networked cabinets with many, many individual co-processing CPUs and an absolute PILE of memory, with some kind of modest terminal (or optionally, many many time-sharing terminals) attached. The best way to think of it is an old university or government insititution mainframe.

Any that you can buy for your PC-upgrading pocket change won't be good for much any more - in fact if a local college is getting rid of it, you can be sure it's past it and they've run it basically until it's no longer reliable any more (never mind competitively powerful; so long as it runs the programs they want at original speed, they don't care; i've seen happily running college computer rooms full of 486s as recently as 2003) .... as their budgets for buying such equipment are often laughably small, and you may well be funding a major part of it's replacement's cost.

And no......... you almost certainly won't be able to interface it with your regular PC in any meaningful manner. You might be able to "telnet" into it over a network cable (running a text-based terminal screen) to control what it does and collect raw data to be interpreted by display programs on your "terminal", perhaps even port a copy of Folding @ Home onto it, but it's not going to be any cop for games.

Besides, the thing's collectively going to be the size of a comfortably specified camper van and require a few kilowatts of power. Where would you stow it and how would you plug it in (or pay for the electricity)?

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