The project was a collaboration between Intel corporation and Sandia Labs, as part of the U.S. Government's Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative (ASCI). It was built as stage one of the Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative (ASCI) by the United States Department of Energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration to build a simulator to replace live nuclear weapon detonation following the moratorium on underground testing started by President George H. W. Bush in 1992 and extended by President Bill Clinton in 1993.
It was a mesh-based (38 X 32 X 2) MIMD massively-parallel processing machine initially consisting of 4,510 compute nodes, 1212 gigabytes of total distributed memory and 12.5 terabytes of disk storage. The original incarnation of this machine used Intel Pentium Pro processors, each clocked at 200 MHz. These were later upgraded to Pentium II OverDrive processors. The system was upgraded to a total of 9298 Pentium II OverDrive processors, each clocked at 333 MHz. It consisted of 104 cabinets, taking up about 2500 square feet (230 m²). The system was designed to use commodity mass-market components and to be very scalable.
The original ASCI Red was the first computer on Earth to rate above 1 teraFLOPS on the MP-Linpack benchmark (1996), as noted in Top500 Supercomputer sites. After being upgraded with Pentium II Overdrive processors, the computer demonstrated sustained MP-Linpack benchmarks above 2 teraFLOPS.
Different partitions of the machine used different operating systems. To the programmer, it appeared as a normal Unix machine, running "Teraflops OS", Intel's distributed OSF/1 AD-based system originally developed for the Paragon XP/S supercomputer. The compute partition processors ran Sandia's very light-weight "Cougar" operating system which traces its heritage back to the SUNMOS kernel developed for the compute nodes of the Paragon.
A portion of ASCI Red is in the permanent collection of The Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA.