Transputers and me


Hackaday just ran a piece on transputers:

which has got some interesting comments on it, and happens to feature a marketing video which I put up on Youtube:

But as it happens I have a little bit of a connection, as I worked at Inmos from the late 80s (just after all the clever people had left) until… somewhat later. It was already part of ST when I joined but still had a defiant independence, at least on the ground floor.

I posted a bit about the T9000, the glorious failure of a follow-on from the original T4 and T8, here:

And from that thread:

There are a couple of very interesting retrospectives from Iann Barron on Inmos - how the funding came and went, how the American subsidiary interacted with the UK parent (badly) and how the memory business, intended as a seed business for the transputer, got a life of its own.

Oh, and pictures - it turns out I own rather more than 100 transputers…

as posted on gplus.

Another connection here, although I worked for one of the companies founded by the smart people that left… Meiko Scientific - who were making MPP (Massively Parallel Processor) “supecomputers” out of transputers - at least while the transputer was fast enough - Inmos weren’t quick enough at making faster, better processors, so Meiko moved to using them initially just as fast “link engines” to i860’s then dropping them altogether and moving over to Sparc…

And the real reason I moved from Edinburgh to (near) Bristol was actually to an Engineering company who had a small division specialising in factory automation who’s computer systems were transputer based, made by Meiko… That all went pear shaped within a few months and fortunately Meiko took me on. So the transputer has been put into some weird an wonderful places other than supercomputers.

The idea was good - simple message passing processing, they just never caught on…



As a kid, my Dad was in charge of the metallurgy department at a gold mine. Had IBM and IBM-AT machines running Concurrent PC-Dos (Onspec SCADA) to a ton of PLC’s doing all the controlling.

He started migrating the from a normal process controller to Transputers. Heto get a proof-of-concept process automation system using Inmos transputers - 8 links to Omron PLC’s via Modbus/RS485 and it ran a treat. (so he told me!)

In the end the cost was too high… the accountants wouldn’t pay for an upgrade when the current system ran just fine.

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That’s great to read - the engineering co. I briefly worked for had a PLC type module for their main station control box - it connected via a transputer link and had industrial grade IO modules. I demod it on the company xmas tree by taking the lights apart (12v incandescent then!) and hooking them up to the unit and writing a simple interpreter for a simple sequence code for it (AFLPL - A Fairy Light Programming Language) The station boxes were designed to be connected to a ‘station’ which might have been a CNC Mill, Lathe, measuring machine, etc. using … token ring. So on our demo network in the office anyone could write a simple script and send it to the tree station as you’d send a CNC program to a mill…

The kit was reassuringly expensive though.


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