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Homebrew Cray 1 "Super" Computer

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    I fell down an interesting web-hole yesterday talking about Cray supercomputers at work, and stumbled across a project somebody was doing to actually build a new old Cray using modern hardware. For those that aren’t down with digital archeology, Cray was THE name in supercomputing in the late 70s, early 80s. They were sort of monolith shaped, and tended to have faux leather bench seating integrated into their cases they were so big. They were so high end that each one was kind of a custom one off job and most of them ended up in the bowels of the alphabet agencies of the US government cracking codes or predicting weather patterns. Legend has it that at the height of their popularity, Nolan Bushnell had one installed at Atari headquarters just because they could afford it. They had thousands of boards, and would automatically re-route around burned out circuits like the T800 from Terminator since the failure rate on a good day was 1 board per day.

    All those slats on the left are boards and each column is similarly full; all that white mess in the middle is actually the wiring connecting them all together.

    If you search on ebay, you can buy framed boards from old Crays, they’re typically upwards of $150:

    Anyway, I stumbled across a guy that was trying to build his own from a few years back, and his super interesting blog chronicles the saga of him trying to track down the original OS, and ultimately getting a former employee to send him a recovery “disk” necessitating a deal where he borrowed some antiquated disk drives from a technology museum and had to bring them back from the dead, and even then the best he could do was build a robot (!) to transcribe the magnetic information into binary for decoding later into something human readable. He ended up kind of open-sourcing it, and as is often the case somebody across the world was able to get it sorted out, and now they have an actual running Cray 1 OS, but no software to use on it.


    The story of getting that disk and rebuilding the drives to read it was basically the plot of that Cowboy Bebop episode when Jet and Spike go spelunking for a VHS player, and after all that work find out they need a Betamax.

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