Tag Archives: Parsytec

The PPC Parsytecs

Well, because I’ve been asked every now and then… I’ll briefly touch the “Post-Transputer era” of Parsytec and thier PPC products in this Post.
No, I don’t own any of those, and they only run/ran Parsytecs very own PARIX OS, so I’m not of much help when it comes to revive your system.  As often said, I don’t like to see Transputers being degraded to communication processors. So this is just for completeness and might help to identify your brand new dumpster-dive finding:

The missing link: PowerTRAM 601

These are the only Parsytec products which truly and directly bridge ‘old-world tech’ (i.e. INMOS) with ‘new-world tech’.
The PowerTRAM – available from 1994 to ca. 1996 – was a size-4 TRAM featuring an 80MHz 601 PowerPC which is memory-mapped into a 25Mhz T425 memory.

The Front has all the glamour. In the lower left corner you can spot the T425 in a QFP package, above it is a MACH FPGA most likely containing the glue logic.
The remaining space is used by the mighty PPC601 hidden under a huge heat-sink and a fan (the 80MHz version was the fastest 601 fabricated using a 0.6 µm CMOS process and ran quite hot) as well as two PS/2 SIMM slots for its RAM.

[Pictures courtesy by J. Snowdon]

The rightmost third of backside is populated with 1MB of RAM for the Transputer and the classic logic to connect it (mainly latches).
The left two thirds are used up by quite some transceivers. Namely six ABT1852 18-bit bus transceivers (the square ones) which most likely connect the Transputer and PPC busses as well as covert the latter 3.6V level to the the T425 5 volts.

The “other x’plorer”

Well, yes, there was another x’plorer in existence. As with the GC-system, Parsytec later offered the “PowerXplorer”- you may guessed it already: It used the cluster from the PPC601 powered GC systems.
Interestingly enough there seem to be 2 versions in existence. At least the German computer magazine c’t reported in May 1994 that there’s a 2 CPU and a 4 CPU PowerXplorer… and featured the two below images as a proof.
Maybe the 2-CPU model was a beta-model or even using early PPC604’s? At least it features SIMM sockets vs. the soldered RAM used in the 4 CPU version.


If you’re really-really interested in that model, here’s a big (Click to zoom) picture of the PPC cluster board. I’ve marked the important parts for easier finding.



The TPM-MPC  (Transputer Processing Module – Multi Processing Card) is basically a single CPU version of the PowerXplorer. So one T425 is handling the link communications and, depending on the revision, a 100, 133 or 200MHz 604e PPC is doing the number-crunching.

This is a Revision 1 TMP, far left in red frame you can spot a T800 Transputer with its RAM – in the green frame is the PPC604 and soldered 16MB of EDO RAM:


A somewhat different version (can’t spot a Rev making) providing 32MB RAM to a 100MHz PPC604 and having the glue-logic between the 2 CPUs shuffled around a bit compared to the previous version:


The Rev.2 model features SIMM sockets for the EDO RAM and has a slightly different layout.


The Transputer part on this one is a T425 (who needs a FPU for just doing data-shifting?!) with 1MB RAM, framed in red between the 2 SIMM sockets, marked with blue arrows:


The PPC side (heatsink removed) including some drivers and the 3.3V supply.


Independent of the revision, TPMs went into a TPM-Box. A simple, steel box with a power-supply, two fans and a backplane for 4 TPMs. This is it from the front (grille removed):


…and the even less impressive back.


As some ePay auctions mention “taken from RVSI 5700 SYSTEM” I assume the main usage for TPMs were optical analysis/inspection systems which Parsytec built when turning their backs to super-computing.


The GC system (GigaCluster) was Parsytecs entry into the Supercomputing world aiming the TOP500 list.
Actually there were two models available. The pure Transputer model was called “GCel” (GigaCluster entry level) while its successor using Motorolas PPC601 CPUs was simply called “GC”. The different sources in the Web are mixing those two model-names at random – I’m sticking to GC throughout this article, even it’s the Transputer model.


A GC machine is built up from a number of GigaCubes. Each GigaCube represents a self-contained unit/case with its own power supply, I/O channels and interconnection to other GigaCubes. Each GigaCube contains 64 T805 processors packaged at high-density.
A GigaCube was available as a stand-alone machine, called the GC-1/64 (Peak performance = 12.8 GIPS (32-bit), 1.6 GFLOPS (64-bit))
This is a picture of 4 GigaCubes (GC-2, i.e. 256 Transputers)


 This picture shows the biggest ever built GC. It’s the GC-3 (1024 CPUs) delivered to the university of Paderborn (Germany) which is now on display stored away somewhere in the Heinrich-Nixdorf Computer Museum in the same city (Thanks to Abraham V. giving me the update that they removed it from public display. Shame on them! – been there myself in 2018 and yes, it’s still not on display):


Machines larger than the GC-3 (>= 1024 processors) would have required water cooling which is facilitated by the use of “heat pipes”. Here’s a sketch I’ve found showing where the cooling was located in the GigaCube housing.


How did Parsytec connect those heat-pipes with the board? By a lucky incident a nice guy provided me with new, detailed photos describing how cooling was managed.

Contrary to a “normal” GigaCluster CPU board (or cluster, as described further down), CPU boards in GC-3 were covered by a massive aluminum heat-spreader, featuring “half-pipes” milled into the aluminum as shown in this picture:


When put back-to-back into the Backplane, those half-pipes created a full pipe into which the heat-pipe was “sunk”. Very clever, indeed.


Fun-findings: If a GC-4 whould have ever been built, it would have looked like this rendering (bear in mind: 4096 Transputers!)

And here’s a nice press-photograph showing Angela Merkel building a GC… naah, just kidding:


A GigaCube consists of four clusters of 16 processors and has self-contained redundancy, control processor, power supply and cooling.
A cluster is the basic architectural unit and consists of 16 Inmos IMS T805 transputers running at 30MHz, the EDC-protected memories (up to 4Mbytes per T805), a further redundant T805, the local link connections and 4 Inmos C004 routing chips. Each link of the T805 is connected to a different C004, thus making it hardware fault tolerant. Redundancy in a cluster ensures overall probability of failure is less than that of a single typical chip.
This is a diagramm of how a cluster was connected internally:


And this is a photogaph of a cluster as it was used in the Parsytec x’plorer. Besides the missing C004s it is identical to the those used in the CG:



Inside a GigaCube each processor cluster has eight dedicated links with a bidirectional bandwidth of 20 Mbytes/s. Each of the two sets of 16 links with an additional control link forms a basic I/O channel. These are logically driven by the control processor and therefore allow it to control the attached devices if required. For the largest systems shared I/O devices amongst the GigaCubes is achieved with a special module (IONM) which may be cascaded.

Up to 4 clusters were plugged into a Backplane which looks like this:


Next to the four cluster-boards, a buffer-board was seated handling the communication “outside of the cube”:


As you most certainly know, Blinkenlights is an absolute must-have (and the 6th commandment in Axels laws ;)), so each Cube had its own LED panel – 128 LEDs, 2 for each Transputer in the Cluster – hidden behind a sleek acrylic glass:



The communications structure of the machine is software configurable. Each T805 has four hard links and up to 16384 virtual links. Each hard link is connected to a C004 32×32 way cross-bar switch. The C004 can determine the destination of a message and switch automatically with extremely low latency.

Operating System

Ofically the CG-machines were meant to be used with PARIX. PARIX is based on UNIX with parallel extensions, supports Remote Procedure Call and the I/O library is a subset of the POSIX standard.
Being a “good Transputer system” the GCs can also run Helios. Helios is supporting the special reset-mechanism of Parsytec out of the box.

Parsytec was involved in the first phase of the GPMIMD project. However, disagreement with the other members, Meiko, Parsys, Inmos and Telmat, on the adoption of a single physical architecture, prompted them to announce their own T9000 machine, based on the design of the CG machines. Due to INMOS’ problems with the T9000, Parsytec switched to the Motorola 604 PowerPC CPUs. This led to their “hybrid” systems degrading Transputers as communication processors and having the PPCs doing the computational work.
While I cannot support that policy, here’s a separate Post about those bastard machines due to frequent requests 😉


The Parsytec SuperCluster was the first system moving away from the classic Eurocard (wikipedia) based machines like the predecessor “MegaFrame” – also, due to the availability of the FPU in the new T800, the previously supporting Motorola M68881 was dropped.

This is how a SuperCluster looks like (NB: Two MegaFrames sitting on top of it):


(This specific system still stands as an exhibition in the halls of the University Paderborn. It has 320 Transputers, 4MB RAM each, total performance is about 1.1 GFlops/sec. Picture courtesy of “[CD]Overkill”)

This is the CPU Module (4 nodes, 4MB each) – while being bigger because of the use of many DIP parts, the basic design is very similar to the later GigaCluster node:


And this is the so-called NCU- or XBAR-Module (Network Connection Unit/Crossbar, in this case the “L” version) consisting of 13 C004 Network-switches and one controlling T425 Transputer:


A “Map” of the NCU (Red CPU-Node, Blue C004s, Orange RS422 transceiver):


If my interpretation is correct, 4 CPU Modules were combined with one NCU, so 16 Transputers were connected to a 12-C004 Network using the 13th C004 to connect this “Cluster” to the ‘outside’, e.g. backplane with more Clusters.

For completeness sake, here’s a picture of the NCU “version R”. It consists of just 10 C004 and the controlling Transputer is a T222 – given its layout in pure DIL, this might be the predecessor of the L-model.
As I’ve learned from another “SuperCluster Enthusiast” (That probably makes it 2 world wide ;-)) both NCUs were used in a SuperCluster. “L” and “R” simply stands for “Link” and “Reset”, so those signals were handled by separate NCUs.


The two larger ICs in front of the T222 are SRAMs (64K total) making the design even simpler.


It’s yet unclear how to write its name correctly. Some sources use XPlorer, others xPlorer and many other permutations. As my model has this logo at the front of its case xpl_logo

I’m going to use x’plorer. Having this burning issue off my chest, let’s go into details 😉

The x’plorer is more or less a single “slice” -Parsytec called them cluster– of a GigaCube, which used 4 of those clusters in its smallest 64-Transputer version (GC-1). Thus, the  x’plorer features 16 Transputers, each having access to 4MB RAM in a gorgeousdesktop case. If you want, you could call it a “GC-0.25”. xplorer_freigestellt

Sorry, but I have to rave a bit over its case design. I first saw it at CeBit fair 1995, when is was on display at the “IF forum design” (I explained that in the Parsytec intro already). I was literally pulled through the room and stood in front of it for minutes.
It looked like a typical FROG design work (Famous for the NeXT cube, Apple //c, some 68k Macs, SPARC Stations and much more) and I told this everybody who asked… but I just figured out I was wrong and it was actually designed by a relatively small studio called Via 4 Design.

The grey L-shaped base/back is made of sheet metal and contains the power supply in the base, a tiny bit of logic (described further down) and 2 big fans in the back.

The big blue main body is made of cast metal – no puny plastic crap. Yes, it’s heavy.
At first sight everybody thinks “hey, that’s a clever design, using the case as a heat sink!”. That’s obvious as those fingers/burlings sticking out to the left and right really do look like they are just that. And yes, as far as I was told, initially they planned to use them for cooling to circumvent noisy fans… but for some reason this didn’t work out and so they’re just a -admittedly very cool- design element.


Let’s open that beauty. After loosening two screws at the back you can remove the whole back-panel holding the 2 big fans. The first you’ll see will be a rather simple, 2-layer circuit board  containing the RS422 interface logic, i.e. 2 Am2631 and 2 Am2632.
This is the board removed from the case. Front:


….and the back. A bit patched, some resistors added.


Those extra cables and resistors were retrofitted to allow the user to “partition” the x’plorer into either 1×16 or 2×8 Transputers. Therefore my x’plorer has a simple switch on its back to either select the full or half system. As there are 4 connectors in the back (2x TTL, 2x RS422) two users can use the system at the same time.

After removing the L-Shaped base from the main part, you can slide-out the blue side-panels leaving you with the dark grey frame holding the main circuit board… looking like this:


You might wonder about the ‘workshop environment’ – well, actually you need quite some tools to open the x’plorer. Like with some Italian cars ;-), you need a different screwdriver for each screw. Here’s what I remember: Allen key size 2, 2.5 and 3. Also handy are a Torx size 3 and a Phillips size 2 as well a a rubber hammer to carefully removing the dark-grey frame (consists of 3 parts).
All in all, given the wild mixture of techniques and material used, I have the strange feeling that the x’plorer was created in a somewhat shirt-sleeve approach.

After some wiggling, careful knocking and a bit of cursing, you will have the main circuit-board laying in front of you – actually there are two boards, back-to-back, connected by a tiny backplane still hidden in the metal frame in the picture below.
Definitely this is the high-tech part of the whole x’plorer using state-of-the-art technology of its time (1992):


A closer look

The boards layout is nice and clean. You can understand its design by simply looking at it – so let’s do so. Here’s a top-view of 3 ‘Blocks’ or ‘Columns’ as an example… all 16 look the same:


At the Top there’s the T805-30MHz Transputer. Right below is an IDT49C460 which is a 32-bit Error Detection and Correction chip which generates check bits on a 32-bit data field. Then there a lots of buffers and drivers which connect to the 4MB of RAM below them (80ns, so 4 cycle speed). Nice little feature: 2 SMD LEDs for error and running.

On each side, between 4 of those ‘blocks’ are two of those little circuit boards seated in 2 sockets (labelled ‘U1004’ and ‘U1005’). These are hard-wire replacements for the normally installed C004 link switches. Normally means if this cluster would have been installed in a GigaCube, there would be 4 C004s on each cluster allowing free and dynamic configuration of the Transputer network topology. So in an x’plorer you have to live with a fixed 4×4 network, which is not bad, because configuring 4 C004s can be painful 😉


At the same spot, there’s a nice marking of the ‘fathers’ of this board, namely Mr. M.Vyskcocil and L. Wassmann.
Also, the official product name of this board is “GCT8PEDC” and it’s Revision 1.3.


The “other x’plorer”

Well, yes, there was another x’plorer in existence. As with the GC-system, Parsytec later offered the “PowerXplorer”- you may guessed it already: It used the cluster from the PPC601 powered GC systems. I wrote a dedicated post over here about those hybrids, bastards, you-name-it 😉

Let’s roll

Now that we know what’s inside that beautiful case, let’s see if it’s still working. As mentioned before, Parsytec had a special way of resetting the Transputer(s). Instead of resetting all the Transputers in the network the same time (like INMOS did), Parsytec systems had been designed that each Transputer can reset its 4 direct neighbours. So you need to load a special software into a Transputer to do so.
That said, after powering-on the system, all Transputers will be reset automatically. This is the only chance to run standard Trasputer tools like ‘ispy’… once.

So I connected my trusty old Gerlach card to my selfbuilt RS422 interface and brought a cable from there into the x’plorer.
At its back, the x’plorer features four 8-pin sockets made by LEMO (Sockets are EGG.2B.308, so the plug might be FGG.2B.308 I guess) lloking like this:



If you’re lucky enough to own one of those expensive plugs/cables, this is the wireing:

      1        1 Reset out+    2 Reset out-
   2     8     3 Link out+     4 link out-
  3       7    5 Link in-      6 Link in+
   4     6     7 Reset in-     8 Reset in+

I you don’t have a LEMO plug, use the 2×5 sockets inside the x’plorer case right behind the LEMO sockets.  Their pin-out should be:

10  RO+  RO-  9
 8  LO+  LO-  7
 6  NC   NC   5
 4  LI-  LI+  3
 2  RI-  RI+  1

Now let’s call ispy and see what happens…

Using 150 ispy 3.23 | mtest 3.22
# Part rate Link# [  Link0  Link1  Link2  Link3 ] RAM,cycle
0 T800d-24 265k 0 [   HOST    1:0    ...    ... ] 4K,1 1024K,3;
1 T805d-30 1.3M 0 [    0:1    2:1    3:2    4:3 ] 4K,1 4092K,4.
2 T805d-30 1.8M 1 [    5:0    1:1    6:2    7:3 ] 4K,1 4092K,4.
3 T805d-30 1.8M 2 [    7:0    ...    1:2    8:3 ] 4K,1 4092K,4.
4 T805d-30 1.8M 3 [    6:0    ...    ...    1:3 ] 4K,1 4092K,4.
5 T805d-30 1.8M 0 [    2:0    9:1   10:2   11:3 ] 4K,1 4092K,4.
6 T805d-30 1.8M 2 [    4:0   11:1    2:2    ... ] 4K,1 4092K,4.
7 T805d-30 1.8M 3 [    3:0   10:1   12:2    2:3 ] 4K,1 4092K,4.
8 T805d-30 1.8M 3 [    ...   12:1    ...    3:3 ] 4K,1 4092K,4.
9 T805d-30 1.8M 1 [    ...    5:1   13:2   14:3 ] 4K,1 4092K,4.
10 T805d-30 1.8M 2 [   14:0    7:1    5:2   15:3 ] 4K,1 4092K,4.
11 T805d-30 1.8M 3 [   13:0    6:1    ...    5:3 ] 4K,1 4092K,4.
12 T805d-30 1.8M 2 [   15:0    8:1    7:2    ... ] 4K,1 4092K,4.
13 T805d-30 1.8M 2 [   11:0    ...    9:2    ... ] 4K,1 4092K,4.
14 T805d-30 1.8M 3 [   10:0    ...   16:2    9:3 ] 4K,1 4092K,4.
15 T805d-30 1.8M 3 [   12:0   16:1    ...   10:3 ] 4K,1 4092K,4.
16 T805d-30 1.8M 2 [    ...   15:1   14:2    ... ] 4K,1 4092K,4.

Tadaa! There they are: 16 30MHz Transputers running at full steam ahead! Some intense brain-boggling hours later, I was able to draw a “mesh-map”:

|   |   |   |
|   |   |   |
|   |   |   |

After this ispy run you can’t reset the network again if you don’t use proper Parsytec tools… or Helios.

So quickly running the ispy output through my little Perl script (available in the Helios chapter on this page), some small adjustments and here it is, the Helios network map:

Network /Net {
Processor 00 { ~IO, ~01, , ; system; }
Processor IO { ~00; IO; }
Reset { driver; ; pa_ra.d }
processor 01 { ~00, ~02, ~03, ~04; }
processor 02 { ~05, ~01, ~06, ~07; }
processor 03 { ~07,    , ~01, ~08; }
processor 04 { ~06,    ,    , ~01; }
processor 05 { ~02, ~09, ~10, ~11; }
processor 06 { ~04, ~11, ~02,    ; }
processor 07 { ~03, ~10, ~12, ~02; }
processor 08 {    , ~12,    , ~03; }
processor 09 {    , ~05, ~13, ~14; }
processor 10 { ~14, ~07, ~05, ~15; }
processor 11 { ~13, ~06,    , ~05; }
processor 12 { ~15, ~08, ~07,    ; }
processor 13 { ~11,    , ~09,    ; }
processor 14 { ~10,    , ~16, ~09; }
processor 15 { ~12, ~16,    , ~10; }
processor 16 {    , ~15, ~14,    ; }

Obviously you have to ‘compile’ a .map file out of that and adjust your initrc file – all this is described in the above mentioned Helios chapter.
When you have done everything correctly, Helios will happily boot your x’plorer and you can enjoy the mighty power of 16 (well, 17) Transputers!