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The Runners-up: More Earthshaking Chips

These 13 great little chips didn't make our list--mainly because we ran out of space in print. And, well, one isn't even a chip

9 min read

This is part of IEEE Spectrum's Special Report: 25 Microchips That Shook the World.

Image: Cray

Cray Research Cray-1 CPU (1976)

Seymour Cray liked to build powerful computers. He also liked to build beautiful computers. The Cray-1, with its stylized chassis arranged in the shape of a C (as in Cray —get it?), came out in 1976. It might as well have come from the future. Wired by hand, Freon-cooled, a padded seat circling the chassis. In its guts resided tight piles of circuit boards, each crammed with up to 144 chips—memory chips and high-speed logic chips. So the Cray-1 had no microprocessors; instead, the whole machine acted as one 5-metric-ton processor. With 64-bit registers, it ran at 80 megahertz and crunched numbers using a technique called vector processing. Basically, the logic chips fetched long strings of numbers (vectors) from memory and computed them all at once. The C shape actually helped keep wires short and was thus a critical aspect of the high-speed design. The first Cray-1—80 megaflops, 8 megabytes of main memory—went to Los Alamos National Laboratory. It cost US $8.8 million, at a time when a million bucks was real money. Cray pioneered the field of supercomputing, but as a business the company enjoyed mixed results. In the 1980s, the high-performance computing market was dominated by massively parallel machines, which were less expensive and more flexible than Cray’s. They just didn’t look as good as a Cray.

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The Transistor at 75

The past, present, and future of the modern world’s most important invention

2 min read
A photo of a birthday cake with 75 written on it.
Lisa Sheehan
LightGreen

Seventy-five years is a long time. It’s so long that most of us don’t remember a time before the transistor, and long enough for many engineers to have devoted entire careers to its use and development. In honor of this most important of technological achievements, this issue’s package of articles explores the transistor’s historical journey and potential future.

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