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The Spirit Workstation


The SPIRIT workstation project aims to design and build a high-performance technical workstation to support computationally demanding activities in computer-aided engineering, image processing, graphical interaction, knowledge-based systems, modelling and simulation, and the development of advanced applications software. The industrial partners intend to market a commercial product based on the prototypes developed within the project, and expect to establish a position of dominance in the high-performance end of the European technical workstation market by the mid-1990s.
The SPIRIT workstation's key features are:
a wide range of processing powers, from using a multiprocessor architecture;
open hardware architecture (high speed bus (Futurebus+) with a shared memory system, and an interface to an industry standard input/output (I/O) bus);
provision of a UNIX environment complying with industry standards;
object oriented environment (Smalltalk-80 extended with support for multiprocessing, distributed working, and advanced interactive 3-dimensional graphics and C++);
high performance, high quality 3-dimensional graphics, rendering 3 x 106 vectors per second and 300 k Gouraud shaded polygons per second, with Gouraud and Phong shading, antialiasing, texturing, ray tracing, and radiosity;
networking via DoD internet protocols (TCP/IP), with Ethernet and fibre distributed data interface (FDDI) as low-level protocols implemented in hardware;
and a high performance I/O subsystem with a disk array throughput of over 20 megabytes per second.

SPIRIT is a high performance technical workstation designed for advanced applications in engineering design, medical image processing and scientific visualisation. The SPIRIT workstation combines exceptional computing power using a multiprocessor architecture with high performance 3-dimensional real time, true colour graphics. The SPIRIT workstation is a tightly coupled multiprocessor design, communicating over a bus with a sustained bandwidth of over 100 MBytes per second. It provides 80-600 mixed integer programming units and 20-140 mega floating point operations, with data rates capable of transmitting realtime video and providing realtime 3-dimensional graphical interaction. The software base is an industry standard UNIX system, augmented with object oriented programming environments and artificial intelligence languages, all fully integrated. The system software is implemented with advanced software technology which includes a multithreaded, tightly coupled, heterogeneous operating system kernel. This support for heterogeneity is the key prerequisite to incorporate new processors as they appear. The SPIRIT workstation is equipped with standard networking facilities.
The workstation will use a small-scale multi-processor design, based around a central very-high-speed memory system and using data rates capable of transmitting real-time video or providing real-time 3-D graphic interaction. General-purpose processors (chosen early in the project from the leading industry-standard processors) will be used, as well as a high-performance AI processor. The software base will include an industry-standard Unix system, augmented with object-oriented programming environments and AI languages, particularly Prolog, all capable of integration with networking facilities. The system software will be implemented with state-of-the-art software technology which includes an operating system kernel suitable for multiprocessor and distributed working.

To achieve the wide range of capabilities envisaged without causing unnecessary costs for applications with different technical requirements, the hardware architecture chosen is modular, with high performance in three particular areas: 2-D and 3-D graphics, AI languages, and image processing, each achieved with special-purpose hardware subsystems that could be omitted from any particular machine. On the other hand, sharing development and software costs means that the workstation as a whole will be cheaper to develop than many specialised machines directed at narrower market segments.

The project is founded on the cooperation of industrial partners across national boundaries, bringing together four groups in four different countries, each contributing excellence in different areas of workstation design, image processing, system software, graphics hardware, and AI language hardware.

A fundamental outcome of the SPIRIT workstation project will be the ability of European industry to achieve at least parity with non-European competition at the high-performance end of the workstation market. This will not only provide a good position for progressing to more advanced products in the later 1990s, but will also provide a base for supporting the migration of high-end technology to lower-cost machines throughout the decade.


Kontron Elektronik GmbH
Breslauer Straße 1
85386 Eching

Participants (8)

Van Eeghenstraat, 100
1071 GL Amsterdam
British Aerospace Defence Ltd
United Kingdom
Downshire Way
RG12 1QL Bracknell
23 Rue Du Bignon Zone Industrielle Sud Est
35135 Chantepie
Inf- Ecublens
1015 Lausanne
Gipsi SA
2 Boulevard Vauban
78053 Saint-quentin-en-yvelines
Telmat Informatique SA
6 Rue De L'industrie Zone Industrielle
68360 Soultz
United Kingdom
BN1 9QT Brighton
Auf Der Morgenstelle 10C9
72076 Tübingen