Recovering data for a homemade Cray

In our hubris, we pat ourselves on the back when we’re able to pull data off our old SCSI drives. [Chris Fenton]’s attempt to get an OS for a homebrew Cray-1 puts us rightfully to shame.

Last year we saw [Chris]’ fully functional 1/10th scale Cray-1 supercomputer built around FPGA. While the reproduction was nearly cycle-accurate, [Chris] hasn’t had an opportunity to test out his system because of the lack of available Cray software. A former Cray employee heard of his plight and loaned an 80 Megabyte CDC 9877 disk pack to in the hope of getting some system software.

[Chris] acquired a monstrous 100 pound disk drive to read the disk pack, but after 30 years in storage a lot of electrical problems cropped up. Since reading the drive digitally proved to be an exercise in futility, [Chris] hit upon the idea of taking analog data straight from the read head. This left him with a magnetic image of the disk pack that was ready for some data analysis.

After the disk image was put up on the Internet, the very talented [Yngve AAdlandsvik] figured out the data, header, and error correction formats and sent [Chris] a Python script to tease bits from the analog image. While no one is quite sure what is on the disk pack provided by the Cray employee, [Chris] is remarkably close to bringing the Cray-1 OS back from the dead. There’s also a great research report [Chris] wrote as penance for access to the CDC disk drive. Any Hack A Day readers feel like looking over the data and possibly giving [Chris] a hand?

Tiny Cray-1 courtesy of an FPGA

[Chris Fenton] spent a year and a half constructing a 1/10th scale Cray-1 reproduction. The famous supercomputer was meticulously modelled in a field programmable gate array for a “nearly cycle-accurate” reproduction. [Chris’] hardware of choice for the project is a Xilinx Spartan-3E 1600 development board, using 75-80% of the available resources. The finished product runs at 33 MHz and is missing a few functions but it sounds like they don’t affect code execution. We like that he didn’t stop with the processor implementation, but also took the time to produce a case for the development board that looks just like the original.

Unlike the Atari 2600 FPGA project, we’re not quite sure what we’d use this for. But that doesn’t diminish the excellence of his work.

Cray-inspired PC case

35 years following its introduction, and despite fewer than 100 systems deployed, the Cray-1 remains one of the most recognizable computers in history; it is a timeless icon of pure supercomputer badassery. Custom case builder [Daryl Brach] pays homage to this classic with his third-scale model housing two modern PC motherboards.

In an interesting reversal, the base of the model — the upholstered bench that housed cooling and power distribution for the original Cray — holds the PC motherboards and storage, while the upper section is currently just for show but may house a water cooling rig in the future. The paint scheme is inspired by the Cray-1 on display at the Smithsonian, though Daryl’s model does make a few modern concessions such as LED lighting. Hinged panels in the base flip open to access the systems’ optical drives (perhaps to watch Tron on DVD).

The Cray-1 ran at 80 MHz and could house up to eight megabytes of memory…just about unfathomable performance in its day. It’s not clear what processors [Daryl] chose to outfit his system with, but regardless, even an entry-level modern PC doesn’t just run circles around its progenitor, it runs ray-traced glass spheres around it. Technology marches on, but good design never goes out of style.

Non-von1 supercomputer


[Chris] sent us this project, where he built a tiny supercomputer called the Non-von1. Wanting a supercomputer, but lacking space and funds, he opted to go after the supercomputers of the 80s. His system was patterned after the “Von Neumann” systems developed at Columbia university. His system has 31 8 bit processors to crunch numbers for him. The whole unit communicates with the computer using a19.2 kbps serial link.  He does talk about its limited capabilities, stating that he could use it as a way to store roughly half of his cell phone’s phonebook. This reminds us of the Basic stamp supercomputer we covered back in November.

A Basic stamp supercomputer


Hobby super computer building isn’t something you hear about every day. This project is even more peculiar due to the fact that it is a supercomputer built with BASIC Stamps. [humanoido] posted some great pictures and detailed info about his project. We’re not completely sure what definition of supercomputer he’s using, but he states that it beats out the others in 10 categories. Those categories are: smaller, lighter, portable, field operable, runs on batteries, has greatest number of input/output, has greatest number of sensors/variety, lowest power consumption, lowest unit cost, and easiest to program. Those sound a little more like features than supercomputing categories to us, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that this is one cool jumble of wires.

You may be wondering what it does. Well, so are we. From what he says, it talks in Chinese and English and has a plethora of other input and output devices. It also displays status of its internal communications. Catch a video after the break.

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