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The Spirit Workstation: a High-Performance Multifunction Technical Workstation


The SPIRIT Workstation project aims to design and build a high-performance workstation to support computationally demanding activities in computer-aided engineering, image processing, graphical interaction, modelling and simulation. The project also aims to facilitate 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 workstation market by the mid-1990s.
In exploiting parallelism in every aspect of both the central processing unit (CPU) and graphics subsystems, the TWS88 combines the performance of a top of the range computing workstation with exceptional 3-dimensional graphics performance to form a scalable deskside system.

The system offers:
24 plane colour display (true colour) with double buffering and the acceleration of 3-dimensional graphics;
adoption of PHIGS libraries and the PEX Protocol, 3-dimensional extension to X-Windows;
compliance with the VME standard which allows the integration of a large number of industrial boards, (TWS88 is one of the only UNIX graphics workstations that supports applications in an industrial environment);
compliance with the UNIX SVR4 operating system, X/OPEN standards, POSIX and SVID;
standard communication capacities (TCP/IP, ISO, X25, RNIS, FDDI);
compliance with 88open, BSC/OCS, enabling a choice of more than 1500 software packages.

TWS88 is characterized by hardware and software architecture which makes greater use of the client/server model than any other graphics workstation.
The 2-dimensional graphics software (X11, MOTIF) and its 3-dimensional extensions (PEX, PHIGS, GIL) are executed for the most part in the graphics subsystems which have their own processors and working memories. Because of this, a graphics application demands very little of the central processor leaving it available for calculation tasks or input/output.
TWS88 thus offers the new concept of graphics server. This concept allows several internal graphics subsystems to be combined with the same central unit, as well as X-Windows terminals on the Ethernet network, without decreasing the graphics performances on the different screens. The performance cost ratio of such a graphics multiuser solution is the most advantageous in the industry.
The SPIRIT Workstation will provide 50-1000 MIPS and 25-500 Mflops, with data rates capable of transmitting real-time video or providing real-time 3-D graphical interaction. The workstation will have a multiprocessor design, communicating over an industry standard bus with a bandwidth capability of 300 - 500 Mbytes/s. Facilities for high-performance video will be provided. The software base will include an industry-standard, heterogeneous, multiprocessor Unix system, augmented with powerful CASE and object-oriented programming environments, all implemented to be capable of integration with computer network facilities.

The system software will be implemented with advanced software technology, including an operating system kernel suitable for tightly coupled multiprocessor working. The design will not be restricted to a homogeneous system; support for heterogeneity is regarded as the key prerequisite for the ability to incorporate new processor technologies as they appear.

To achieve the wide range of capabilities envisaged without incurring unnecessary costs, the hardware architecture will be modular, with high performance in the areas of graphics and image processing achieved with special-purpose hardware subsystems which could be omitted from any particular machine. The sharing of development and software costs means that the workstation as a whole will be cheaper to develop than would a range of specialised machines directed at narrower market segments.

A fundamental result of the SPIRIT Workstation project will be to assist European industry in achieving at least parity with non-European competitors 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 mid to late 1990s, but will also provide a base to support the migration of high-end technology to lower cost machines throughout the decade.

The graphics performance will be substantially improved through using ASICs, and an extension of the graphics interface layer will be implemented for higher quality rendering including ray-tracing, radiosity and better behaviour mechanisms. Cross-programming tools and an executive environment for the graphics subsystem will be implemented in order to provide maximum versatility to graphics application developers.

A PostScript pre-viewer will be provided in order to facilitate the production of high-quality documents. The graphics developments aim to provide the High Performance Graphics Subsystem (HPGS) of the SPIRIT Workstation. This graphics subsystem, integrated with the multiprocessor heterogeneous Unix system, will offer the competitive functionality necessary in a high-performance technical workstation. In addition, it is intended that the HPGS will be capable of incorporation into other workstations based on FutureBus+ and marketed as separate boards for specific applications. The graphics interface layer will allow the rapid and efficient porting of newly emerging graphics standards. X-WINDOWS, PEX, and PHIGS+ will all be implemented on the SPIRIT Workstation.

This project is now fully incorporated into project 2484 (SPIRIT).


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Kontron Elektronik GmbH
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Breslauer Straße 1
85386 Eching

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