||It has been suggested that this article be merged into Stardent Inc.. (Discuss) Proposed since June 2013.|
The Ardent Computer Corporation was a graphics minicomputer manufacturing company. The systems also used the Intel i860 as graphics co-processors. The company went through a series of mergers and re-organizations and changed names several times as their venture capital funders attempted to find a market niche for their "graphics supercomputers". After a series of machines that were not particularly successful in the marketplace, they used parts of their design to create graphics subsystems for other workstations, notably DEC machines, but eventually shut down completely in February 1995.
Ardent started as Dana Computer, Inc. in November 1985 in Silicon Valley. Their aim was to produce a desktop multiprocessing supercomputer dedicated to graphics that could support up to four processor units. Each processor unit consisted initially of a MIPS R2000 CPU, and later a R3000, connected to a custom vector processor. The vector unit held 8,192 sixty-four-bit registers that could be used in any way from 8,192 one-word to thirty-two 256-word registers. This compares to modern SIMD systems which allow for perhaps eight to sixteen 128-bit registers with a small variety of addressing schemes.
Ardent software ran on Unix System V Release 3 with proprietary support for the four-way SMP and the vector processor. The compiler was based on the Convex Fortran (and C) compiler. Their significant graphics system for visualization was DORE (Dynamic Object Rendering Environment).
After learning that the name Dana was already in use by a local disk drive company, they became Ardent. Their business plan called for their Titan system to outperform anything in the market, to be ready for beta testing in July 1987, and sell at a price of around $50,000. By late 1986, it was clear their estimates were unrealistic, the machine was still not ready and considerably more development was needed. A second round of funding was provided by Kubota Corporation, a Japanese heavy industries player (best known in North America for their tractors) who was cash-flush and looking for new opportunities. Kubota agreed not only to fund the completion of the Titan but also to provide production facilities in Japan. By the time it was finally ready for testing in February 1988, the performance leadership position of Titan had been eroded, and the price had risen to $80,000.
At almost the same time, Stellar Computer was founded in the Boston area by former Apollo Computer employees, and this new company was aiming to produce a workstation system with enough performance to be a serious threat to the Titan, and at a lower price. Ardent responded by starting work on a new desktop system called Stiletto, which featured two MIPS R3000s (paired with two R3010 FPUs) and four i860s for graphics processing (the i860s replaced the vector units).
In 1989 Kubota forced a merger of the two to produce Stardent Computers, Inc.. In an odd twist, the original Stellar group was left with most of the corporate power. A number of the Ardent employees were less than happy with this move, and quit to form other companies. Others attempted to get Kubota to spin off the original development group as a new company called Comet, but nothing came of this.
In 1990 Stiletto was entering beta when the east-coast management decided to shut down the entire west coast office. Kubota finally saw the error of their ways, and attempted to get Stardent to continue development of Stiletto, and when they failed to do so, formed Kubota Pacific Computers. However Stardent owned the rights to the Titan and Stiletto lines, so the new company had to develop new machines from scratch. Stardent itself eventually went bankrupt in late 1991, selling the rights back to Kubota.
Kubota Pacific Computers
By this point SGI had wrapped up the entire (small) 3D graphics market. Kubota Pacific cast about looking for direction, before finally settling on a desktop-sized 3D graphics accelerator for the Alpha-based DEC 3000 AXP workstations, called Denali. The company also bought DEC 3000 AXP workstations, packaged them with the Denali, and sold the integrated product as the Kenai workstation. Somewhere during this period the company changed its name again, becoming Kubota Graphics Company. Denali ended up being an excellent product, but sales were not enough to keep the company going. Kubota Graphics closed down in 1994.
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