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Seymour Cray's path to supercomputing

With unique designs and a quirky imagination, Seymour Cray built unusual and spectacular supercomputers.

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James Martin
Cray-1A supercomputer
1 of 9 Stephen Shankland/CNET

One of Seymour Cray's iconic Cray-1A supercomputers is shown at the London Science Museum. Its design is cylindrical to reduce wire lengths and features a base you can sit on.

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2 of 9 James Martin/CNET

Early computers worked sequentially, processing one number at a time, but these supercomputing Cray-1 machines increased speeds by processing calculations in an assembly line formation.

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3 of 9 James Martin/CNET

The Cray-1 sold for $10 million and used 115kW of power -- enough to power around 100 homes. The new supermachine was 10 times faster than other computers of the era. 

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4 of 9 James Martin/CNET

Cray stuffed an incredible 60 miles of wire into his Cray-1 machine. Part of the reason for the machine's cylindrical design was to reduce each wire's length to just 3 inches to minimize signal delays.

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5 of 9 Stephen Shankland/CNET

A Cray-2 supercomputer from 1985 at the Musée des Arts et Métiers in Paris.

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6 of 9 James Martin/CNET

A Cray-2 488 MFLOPS/CPU with a memory of 512MW, seen here on display at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California. Released in 1985, each of the 27 machines made cost between $12 million and $20 million.

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7 of 9 James Martin/CNET

The Cray-2 implemented an unusual cooling system that immersed dense stacks of circuit boards in a special liquid called Flourinert, which was cooled in this tank.

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8 of 9 James Martin/CNET

A massive clump of wires that is a Cray-3 CPU section from the 1995-era Cray Computer Corporation. Only one of the Cray-3 machines was delivered before the company went bankrupt.

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9 of 9 James Martin/CNET

In 1980, "wiring ladies" working on the Cray-1 would've worn this simple smock as they spent months inside the machines under production weaving together miles of wire to form these newest supercomputers.

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