In the early 1970s Los Alamos became a consultant to Seymour Cray on the design of the Cray-1, the first successful vector computer. Vector architecture increases computational speed by enabling the computer to perform many machine instructions at once on linear data arrays (vectors). In contrast, computers with traditional serial architecture perform one machine instruction at a time on individual pieces of data (see "How Computers Work" in Los Alamos Science magazine, soon to be available on the Web).

Los Alamos was not only a consultant on the design of the Cray but was also the first purchaser of that innovative hardware. The delivery of the first Cray computer to Los Alamos in 1976 might be said to mark the beginning of the modern era of high-performance computing. The Cray-1 supercomputer had a speed of tens of megaflops (one megaflop equals a million floating-point operations per second) and a memory capacity of 4 megabytes.

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