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Cray C90 Supercomputer For Sale On Ebay
by Alan Beck and Steven Witucki

September 6, 2000

Pittsburgh, PA. -- In an unprecedented move for supercomputer sales, the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center is selling a Cray Y-MP C90 supercomputer via the eBay aucticon website. Interested buyers will be able to place bids on the computer with the highest bidder taking home the computer when the auction closes on September 8.

Below is the eBay description for the item:

"For quick sale: Supercomputer of distinguished pedigree, a CRAY Y-MP C90, one of the world's most powerful only seven short years ago, an extremely reliable workhorse for R&D computing. Get the jump on your competitors! Bring this black & gold beauty home to your research center or lab today!"

"Representing the heyday of Cray Research, Inc., this C916/512 system in good working order is capable of 16 GigaFLOPs (floating point operations per second). It was the first of its kind in the world for use in public research (meaning you don't need a security clearance) when we installed it at the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center in January 1993. Now it's a proud grandparent, two generations removed from PSC's recently announced, powerful new "terascale" system: Big Iron in the Steel City."

"We need to make space for the new baby, and we'd like to find a good home for this senior citizen, who is possessed of great wisdom and has abundant good usage left for the right people. Its name is Mario, after Mario Lemieux of the Pittsburgh Penguins, another distinguished black & gold superstar in retirement. Mario was surpassed in performance in late 1996 by PSC's Cray T3E, yet continued to provide excellent service through May 1999, when it was decommissioned. In 1998 and 1999, Mario maintained an unsurpassed record of 99 percent uptime."

"During his six-plus year tenure at PSC, Mario did the heavy-duty number-crunching for numerous award-winning scientific calculations by researchers nationwide. This includes modeling the beating of the human heart, the impact of comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 with Jupiter, and demonstration of improved smog reduction strategies. The C90 also hosted a T3D system, PSC's first massively parallel computer from Cray, which enabled such work as the simulation of protein folding and forecasting storms that produce tornadoes."

"Mario contains 16 vector processors, each capable of 1 GFLOP performance, main memory amounting to 512 MegaWords (4GB), and a 512MW (4GB) Solid-state Storage Device (SSD) serving as an extension to memory. He comes with raid controllers and disks providing over 130GB of high-speed disk storage."

"Mario will be sold only to buyers in the United States to ensure compliance with Commerce Department regulations on the transport of this equipment. No warranty or support is being offered by the seller, and shipping and payment arrangements are to be completed within 5 days of the close of bidding. The seller will arrange deinstallation of the machine, but the buyer will be responsible for arranging shipping, handling, and insurance and must be prepared to complete appropriate waivers to satisfy US regulations with respect to this equipment."

Editor in Chief Alan Beck interviewed Mike Schneider, Senior Science Writer for PSC and gleaned the following:

Q: Why did PSC decide to auction a C90 on eBay?

A: Really the decision was rather ad-hoc. Because if we don't find a buyer for this machine by mid-September, it goes to the glue factory. If there are no takers, we'll have to pay Cray about $30,000 to haul it away for salvage.

Q: What did this machine originally cost?

A: We got it in 1992 and installed it in 1993. The list price at that time was $35 million, but we didn't pay that much cash because we had a quid-pro-quo with Cray. The cost was still in the millions of dollars, though.

Q: How will the high bidder handle software and integration issues?

A: They must do that for themselves. We're not including any applications. In addition, proper operation requires a special power supply, temperature-controlled environment, and a qualified staff.

Q: Since it is comparatively easy for anyone to set up an account on eBay, how can you be sure that a high-bidder is making a legitimate offer?

A: We'll insist that we get the money up-front. We expect their check to clear before we hand over the machine.

Q: Do you believe this auction anticipates a trend for disposal of older supercomputers?

A: No, I don't think that will happen.

To view the eBay auction, please visit

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