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Chapter 34

The engineering design of the Stretch computer'

Erich Bloch

Summary The Stretch computer is an advanced scientific computer with variable facilities for floating-point, fixed-point, and variable-field-length arithmetic and data-handling facilities,

The performance goal of 100 x 704 speed is achieved by high-speed circuits, multiplexing, and simultaneous-operation technique of instruction and data-fetching, as well as overlap within the execution units. This massive overlap and multiplexing results in complicated recovery routines between the look-ahead and instruction units. These units are described in detail, as are the arithmetic units and significant algorithms used in the floating-point arithmetic.

A flexible set of circuits using a current-switching technique with overriding-level facility is described, as well as the packaging of circuits on printed cards. The frame and gate concept is also shown. Performance figures and hardware count illustrate the size, complexity, and performance of the system.


The Stretch computer [Dunwell, 1956] project was started in order to achieve two orders of magnitude of improvement in performance over the then existing 704. Although this computer, like the 704, is aimed at scientific problems such as reactor design, hydrodynamics problems, partial differential equation etc., its instruction set and organization are such that it can handle with ease data-processing problems normally associated with commercial applications, such as processing of alphanumeric fields, sorting, and decimal arithmetic.

In order to achieve the stated goal of performance, all factors that go into the computer design must contribute towards the performance goal; this includes the instruction set [Buchholz, 1958], the internal system organization, the data and instruction word length, and auxiliary features such as status-monitoring devices, the circuits, packaging, and component technology. No one of them by itself can give this hundred-fold increase in speed; only by the combining and interacting of these contributing factors can this performance be obtained.

This paper reviews the engineering design of the Stretch System with primary concentration on the central computer as the main contributor to performance. In it, these new techniques, devices, and instructions have been pushed to the limit set by the present technology and, therefore, its analysis will convey best the problems encountered and the solutions employed.

The Stretch system

Early in the system design, it appeared evident that a six-fold improvement in memory performance and a ten-fold improvement in basic circuit speed over the 704 was the best one could achieve. To meet the proposed performance criteria, the system had to be organized in such a way that it took advantage of every possible overlap of systems function, multiplexing of the major portion of the system, processing of operations simultaneously, and anticipation of occurrences, wherever possible. The system had to be capable of making assumptions based on the probability that certain events might occur, and means had to be provided to retrace the steps when the assumption proved to be wrong.

This simultaneity and multiplexing of operations reflects itself in the Stretch System at all levels, from overall systems organization to the cycle of specific instructions. In the following description, this will be discussed in more detail.

If one considers the Stretch System (Fig. 1) from an overall point of view it becomes apparent that the major parts of the system can operate simultaneously:

a The 2-m sec, 16,384-word core memories are self-contained, with their own clocks, addressing circuits, data registers and checking circuits. The memories themselves are interleaved so that the first two memories have their addresses distributed modulo 2 and the other four are interleaved modulo 4. The modulo-2-interleaved memories are used primarily for instruction storage; since, for high-performance instructions, halfword formats are used, the average rate of obtaining instructions is one per 1/2 m sec. Similarly, a 0.5-m sec

1Proc. EJCC, pp. 48-59, 1959.


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