Daves Old Computers - Atari Transputer Workstation

In the early 1980s, many people were of the opinion that we had "hit the wall" in terms of the performance that could be obtained from a single cpu. To address this problem, a company by the name of INMOS developed a radical new CPU design they called the "transputer". The concept was to use many simple and fast CPUs working in parallel. The transputer has four high-speed serial busses allowing direct connection to up to four other units, and these can be cascaded into larger networks. The instruction set is also optimized for parallel operation.

The Transputer was promoted as an engine of massively parallel "neural networks" which would operate more like a brain than a traditional computer. There was talk of artifical intelligence and a new parallel processing language called OCCAM was developed. Some of this was hype, some of it true promise, however the Transputer never really caught on, and as traditional machine architectures continued to improve, the Transputer has become an interesting footnote in the history of computing.

Few companies embraced the Transputer, however one that did was Atari Corporation, and in 1988 they announced the ATW800 "Transputer Workstation". This machine runs Helios, a "unix like" parallel processing operating system. In total, only 350 of these units were manufactured, and between 50 and 100 of those were prototypes.

Donated by Richard Evers.

Click any photo to view a large high-resolution image.

The Atari ATW800 "Transputer Workstation".

Based on the INMOS transputer, the machine can accomodate from 1 to 17 transputer CPUs. A cutting edge (for the time) video subsystem called "Blossom" supports several resolutions ranging from 1280 x 960 in 16 colors, to 512x480 in 32-bit true color.

Here is a view from the side.

Using an Atari Mega-ST computer as an I/O processor, the ATW800 uses the standard Mega-ST keyboard and mouse.

Front view of the ATW800 showing floppy drive and control panel.

Rear view showing slots, connectors, and information label.

Inside the ATW800, we can see the I/O board (a complete Atari Mega-ST) sitting on top of the main system board. Sandwiched between them, is the Blossum video module. Just above the blossum is the IMST800 Transputer CPU. Up to 16 more CPUs can be installed on expansion cards.

Here is a closeup of the board area.

ATW800 Boot Floppy (50k JPG)
Atari ABAQ Issue 3 manual (7.2M PDF)
Helios Operating System Manual (2.1M PDF)
Helios Getting started guide (2.8M PDF)
Helios Shell Manual (200k PDF)
Helios File Server Manual (190k PDF)
Helios File Server Install Manual (135k PDF)
Helios Stand-Alone Support Manual (160k PDF)

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Copyright 2004-2005 Dave Dunfield.