A high-speed, 11-parameter, 6-color fluorescence, laser flow cytometer/cell sorter with a number of special and unique features has been built for ultrasensitive detection and isolation of rare cells for clinical diagnostics and therapeutics. The software for real-time data acquisition and sort control, written as C++ programming language modules with a WindowsTM graphical user interface, runs on a 66-MHz 80486 computer joined by an extended bus to 23 sophisticated multi-layered boards of special data acquisition and sorting electronics. Special features include: high-speed (> 100,000 cells/sec) real-time data classification module (U.S. Patent 5,204,884 (1993)); real-time principal component cell sorting; multi-queue signal-processing system with multiple hardware and software event buffers to reduce instrument dead time, LUT charge-pulse definition, high-resolution `flexible' sorting for optimal yield/purity sort strategies (U.S. Patent 5,199,576); pre-focusing optical wavelength correction for a second laser beam; and two trains of three fluorescence detectors-- each adjustable for spatial separation to interrogate only one of two laser beams, syringe- driven or pressure-driven fluidics, and time-windowed parameters. The system has been built to be both expandable and versatile through the use of LUT's and a modular hardware and software design. The instrument is especially useful at detection and isolation of rare cell subpopulations for which our laboratory is well-known. Cell subpopulations at frequencies as small as 10-7 have been successfully studied with this system. Current applications in clinical diagnostics and therapeutics include detection and isolation of (1) fetal cells from material blood for prenatal diagnosis of birth defects, (2) hematopoietic stem and precursor cells for autologous bone marrow transplantation, (3) metastatic breast cancer cells for molecular characterization, and (4) HIV-infected maternal cells in newborn blood to study mother-to-infant vertical transmission of AIDS.