The research group of Professor Paul Woodward at the University of Minnesota and Army High Performance Computing Research Center, in collaboration with Silicon Graphics, Inc., of Mountain View, California, Ciprico, Inc., of Minneapolis, Minnesota, and the IBM Storage Products Division of San Jose, California, has built a digital display and animation system of unprecedented power for a demonstration at Silicon Graphics' Supercomputing '94 exhibit (Booth #401) in Washington, D. C., November 14-17.
This digital display and animation system , the PowerWall, is a video wall 6 feet by 8 feet in size, consisting of 4 image panels projected from the rear onto a single screen. The Power Wall could be a model for the digital movie theater of the future, since its display of 3200 x 2400 pixels has nearly the resolution of 35 mm movie film. Woodward's group uses it to animate images drawn by computers. These images represent the results of supercomputer simulations of the behavior of gases under exotic conditions. Because these conditions are difficult to achieve in the laboratory, computers are used to simulate these environments instead.
An example of such an exotic fluid flow, simulated on a supercomputer and displayed on the PowerWall, is the propagation of a gaseous jet at Mach 4 through a ten times denser ambient gas. This simulation helps astronomers to understand powerful jets which are observed to shoot out of the nuclei of certain active galaxies. The same simulation is also helpful in understanding the way in which jet aircraft engines generate noise at the airport. In either case, the gas flow is subdivided into millions of tiny cells in which the behavior of the gas is treated in a simplified fashion. In order to see the results of such a calculation in their full complexity, the Power Wall display is required, with its nearly 8 million pixel resolution.
Raw data from the supercomputer simulation is stored on a large Ciprico disk subsystem and read in parallel by 2 Silicon Graphics POWER Onyx systems, which process the data into digital images. The 2 POWER Onyx systems can read this image data from their 24 Ciprico disk arrays at roughly 360 Mbyte/sec. With each Power Onyx painting half of the PowerWall display, using 2 Silicon Graphics RealityEngine2 special purpose graphics processors, the result is 15 false-color (8-bit color) or 12 full-color (24-bit color) frames per second at 3200x2400 pixel resolution.
The POWER Onyx graphics supercomputer combines the world's leading graphics with the world's leading microprocessor performance. This system is based on the 64-bit MIPS RISC R8000 microprocessor which offers a record-setting SPECfp92 of 310. The R8000 microprocessor is the first superscalar implementation of the MIPS architecture and is designed for symmetric multiprocessing so that multiple processors can be closely coupled within the same computer. This provides customers with superior performance on applications traditionally solved by large, expensive supercomputers.
According to Woodward, animation of such high resolution scientific images at this speed on a fully digital system under interactive user control will enable us to visualize the extremely complex fluid flows which modern supercomputers can simulate, seeing all the computed data in a single animation. At the Supercomputing '94 exhibit, visitors to the Silicon Graphics booth will be able to explore vast collections of computer generated images from several different simulations and scientific experiments. Applications which can benefit from the very high resolution and animation speed of the PowerWall include: