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SCIENCE/TECHNOLOGY : Irvine Firm Offering a Super-Fast, Small Computer in $120,000 Range

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June 21, 1988|DAVID OLMOS

As computer companies try to create ever-faster machines, an Irvine firm with British origins has developed a super-fast computer small enough to fit under an office desk.

Founded in October, 1986, by a group of British scientists and businessmen, Active Memory Technologies Inc. designs and manufactures high-speed computers capable of performing highly complex computing tasks. The Irvine firm has grown from an initial group of 10 employees to about 70 and expects to double in size within the next year, according to Rodney Hornstein, president and chief executive.

Active Memory's machine, the DAP 510, utilizes a type of computer design known as parallel processing. A parallel processor is a computer in which computations are carried out simultaneously on more than one processing unit.

In a parallel-processing computer, a complex problem is divided into many small pieces that are worked on at the same time. Traditional computer designs use a "serial" approach in which a single processor works out the problem one piece at a time. Active Memory's computer, which is about the size of a two-drawer file cabinet, uses 1,024 individual processors.

"The way we get computing power is by combining many hundreds of thousands of identical processors," Hornstein said. "It's like a chorus line. When one hand moves, they all move." A key advantage of parallel processors is that they offer powerful computing at a far lower cost than the current generation of so-called supercomputers, which carry price tags in the millions. Active Memory's machine costs $120,000.

Active Memory is one of at least a dozen companies in the United States and elsewhere that have developed parallel-processing computers.

Active Memory has targeted three markets: defense and aerospace; computer-assisted design and manufacturing, and research institutions. The Irvine firm's first sale was to Argonne National Laboratory, a federal research center near Chicago. The company says it has delivered machines to 17 customers.

"In all of the areas we're looking at, there is enormous demand," said Hornstein, a company co-founder and a former managing director of Gestetner International Ltd., a British-based manufacturer of reprographic equipment. The company's other founder is Geoffrey Manning, a British nuclear physicist and former director of Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, one of the largest research laboratories in Britain.

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