A superminicomputer, colloquially supermini, was a high-end minicomputer. The term was used to distinguish the emerging 32-bit architecture midrange computers introduced in the mid to late 1970s from the classical 16-bit systems that preceded them. The development of these computers was driven by the need of applications to address larger memory. The term midicomputer had been used earlier to refer to these systems. Virtual memory was often an additional criteria that was considered for inclusion in this class of system. The computational speed of these machines was significantly greater than the 16-bit minicomputers and approached the performance of small mainframe computers. The name has at times been described as a "frivolous" term created by "marketeers" that lacks a specific definition. Describing a class of system has historically been seen as problematic: "In the computer kingdom, taxonomic classification of equipment is more of a black art than a science." There is some disagreement about which systems should be included in this class. The origin of the name is uncertain.
As technology improved rapidly the distinction between minicomputer and superminicomputer performance blurred. Companies that sold mainframe computers began to offer machines in the same price and performance range as superminicomputers. By the mid-1980s microprocessors with the hardware architecture of superminicomputers were used to produce scientific and engineering workstations. The minicomputer industry then declined through the early 1990s. The term is now considered obsolete but still remains of interest for students/researchers of computer history.
Notable manufacturers of superminicomputers in 1980 included: Digital Equipment Corporation, Perkin-Elmer, and Prime Computer. Other makers of systems included SEL/Gould and Data General. Four years later there were about a dozen companies producing a significant number of superminicomputers.
|International Business Machines (IBM)||41.9|
|Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC)||27.6|
|Perkin-Elmer, formerly Interdata||3.4|
|Gould, formerly SEL||2.6|
|Harris Computer Systems||1.7|
Perkin-Elmer spun off their Data Systems Group in 1985 to form Concurrent Computer Corporation which continued making these systems. Nixdorf Computer, Norsk Data, and Toshiba also produced systems.
- Interdata 7/32, 1974
- Digital Equipment Corporation VAX-11/780, 1978[A]
- Prime Computer 750, 1979
- Data General Eclipse MV/8000, 1980[B]
- IBM 4361, 1983
- IBM 9370, 1987
- The dictionary definition of superminicomputer at Wiktionary
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No one can say with certainty who coined the word 'superminicomputer' and to what systems he meant it to apply, but consensus is emerging that a supermini is nothing more than a minicomputer — a high-end mini, but a mini nonetheless.
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Thirty-two-bit computing broke out of the mainframe category with the introduction of the 'supermini' Interdata 7/32 in the mid-1970s and then the VAX in 1977.
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The manufacturers of the new processors all measure their machines against the venerable Digital Equipment Corp. VAX 11/780, which performs somewhat more than a million operations per second.
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At first blush, the word 'supermini' seems to be a contradiction in terms, like 'bittersweet.' There is a temptation to dismiss it immediately as a frivolous pun - the fruit a fertile Mad Ave. mind. In a sense, this gut reaction has merit; the term was obviously coined by marketeers to describe succinctly a class of machines without being too specific.
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As circuit densities and performance increased and prices dropped, the demarcation between minicomputers and superminicomputers and that between low and middle ranges of mainframes began to blur.
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'They even called the new 4361 a multi-application superminicomputer, a term they never used before.'