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Student and Professor Build Budget Supercomputer

CowboyNeal posted more than 7 years ago | from the rivals-of-my-alma-mater dept.

Supercomputing 387

Luke writes "This past winter Calvin College professor Joel Adams and then Calvin senior Tim Brom built Microwulf, a portable supercomputer with 26.25 gigaflops peak performance, that cost less than $2,500 to construct, becoming the most cost-efficient supercomputer anywhere that Adams knows of. "It's small enough to check on an airplane or fit next to a desk," said Brom. Instead of a bunch of researchers having to share a single Beowulf cluster supercomputer, now each researcher can have their own."

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Imagine... (4, Funny)

Glowing Fish (155236) | more than 7 years ago | (#20421819)

A beowulf cluster full of these!

(Okay, now back to responsible mature posting)

Re:Imagine... (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20421959)

(Okay, now back to responsible mature posting)

You forgot to provide a link to that...

Re:Imagine... (3, Insightful)

Jonner (189691) | more than 7 years ago | (#20422405)

In this case, I think it's a somewhat serious idea. This design has only four nodes, so connecting several in a modular fashion might make sense, and retain some of the advantages in portability and cost. You could move the individual Microwulfs around, but bring them together for really big problems. Think of it as a LAN party for scientists.

Newbie translation please? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20422521)

So 1 Hz equals 1 FlOp? And a 3.2 GHz CPU can do 3.2 gigaflops, right? so how are they getting more then 3.2*4 = 12.8 gigaflops out of four CPUs? Can they execute multiple FlOps per tick then? And do we care that these will bottleneck at the rather limited bus (even forgetting about the switch).

If the bus speed is 1 Ghz x 32 bit, doesn't that mean that the whole computer is limited to 1.3 gigaflops at best (need to move at least 96 bits to perform a FlOp?), or even less if a lot of data has to travel over the 1GBit ethernet:

I know I am clueless, sorry, but that's how I learn. THanks for your help.

Can it run vista? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20421821)

Seems like Windows Vista needs a supercomputer to run properly.

Imagine a beowulf (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20421823)

..oh never mind.

Just imagine... (-1, Redundant)

ZeroExistenZ (721849) | more than 7 years ago | (#20421827)

a beowulf cluster of these!

not so impressive... (4, Insightful)

toQDuj (806112) | more than 7 years ago | (#20421833)

It's just four motherboards sitting in a single frame. connected by an ethernet switch.

True supercomputing machines (sun, ibm) have a little bit better interconnectivity between the components than a mere 1Gb/s line. This can serve its purpose though, VASP will run wonderfully on it. GAMESS probably as well.

B.

Re:not so impressive... (-1, Troll)

Cafe Alpha (891670) | more than 7 years ago | (#20421895)

They didn't mention which processor. Maybe that would have spoiled the fun. Is this a set up for an Intel commerical? Are Intel processors "super computers" now or something?

Re:not so impressive... (3, Informative)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 7 years ago | (#20421925)

http://www.calvin.edu/~adams/research/microwulf/bu dget/ [calvin.edu]

          AMD Athlon 64 X2 3800+ AM2 CPU x 4

It's two clicks from the summary.

Slack++

**Lets chop that price down...the newegg,com way** (5, Informative)

Bananatree3 (872975) | more than 7 years ago | (#20422069)

Motherboard: MSI K9N6PGM-F MicroATX [newegg.com] $62.99 * 4 = $251.96

CPU: AMD Athlon 64 X2 3800+ AM2 CPU [newegg.com] $67.50 * 4 = $270

Main Memory: Kingston DDR2-667 1GByte RAM [newegg.com] $48.49 * 8 + $4.99sh = $392.91

Power Supply: (can't beat price): $76.00

Network adapter (node to switch): (cant beat their price) $164.00

Network adapter (switch to node): (cant beat their price) $15

Switch: Trendware TEG-S80TXE 8-port Gigabit Ethernet Switch [newegg.com] $46.99+$7.04sh = $54.03

Hard drive: Seagate 7200 250GB SATA hard drive [newegg.com] $69.99

DVD/CD drive: (can't beat their price): $19

Cooling: (can't beat their price): $32

Fan protective grills: (can't beat their price): $10

KVM: (can't beat their price): $50 Grand total (incl. 15 in hardware): 1416.89 $1000 saved by using Newegg!

Re:**Lets chop that price down...the newegg,com wa (5, Funny)

somersault (912633) | more than 7 years ago | (#20422251)

Discovering that you can build an even more cost effective supercomputer than these guys: priceless

Re:**Lets chop that price down...the newegg,com wa (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20422341)

If you can't build a teraflop capable supercomputer for under $1000, you just aren't being creative enough.

Re:not so impressive... (1)

zeromorph (1009305) | more than 7 years ago | (#20421961)

Are Intel processors "super computers" now or something?

Yes, they are if you cluster them, that's the trick. Here they used: AMD Athlon 64 X2 3800+ AM2 CPU [calvin.edu] and they reach a very good performance with it, compared to the price [calvin.edu] .

I think it's a nice thing, and can be useful for a lot of things especially if you are on low budget. If you cluster Opterons or something it'll get pretty fast expensive.

Re:not so impressive... (3, Insightful)

pablochacin (1061488) | more than 7 years ago | (#20422419)

>Are Intel processors "super computers" now or something?
No, processors ARE NOT supercomputers (actually, the are not computers at all). But if you put enough of them together in the appropriate way, they BECOME a super computer.
Super computers are no longer made from special purpose hardware. Now it makes much more economical sense to build them from general purpose hardware like those Intel or Power PC processors. Look at the Marenostrum [www.bsc.es] , a super computer here is Spain.

Re:not so impressive... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20422595)

Oh come on, moderators! It was a fair question, and it got meaningful responses too. Are the subjects of articles modding comments about themselves now or something? Is Intel modding? Jesus!

Re:not so impressive... (2, Informative)

dbIII (701233) | more than 7 years ago | (#20422097)

Mobs like Verari were selling something similar a while ago - not cheap though and I can't see it on their web page now. What is nice now from other places is things like 2 x 8 core machines in 1U (maxtron and probably a few others). The relatively small supermicro boards in that thing would mean you could put a few in a server case - not cheap though.

Re:not so impressive... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20422171)

Do not tell Apple.

They would not be impressed!

How does it compare to a PS3? (1)

MacroRex (548024) | more than 7 years ago | (#20422179)

Anyone know if there has been a top500-compatible measurement of a PS3? If PS3 costs about $500, one could build a "ps3wulf" with four nodes and some network equipment for $2500. Anyone have any idea how it could compare with the Microwulf?

Re:How does it compare to a PS3? (4, Informative)

MacroRex (548024) | more than 7 years ago | (#20422243)

Sorry for replying to myself, but I found an interesting paper [netlib.org] about the subject. Seems that a PS3 should have Rpeak of 14 Gflop/s with double precision floating point operations. Sounds to me that with a proper clustering solution a four-node PS3 cluster would be significantly faster than Microwulf. And it would probably be a smaller, too :)

Re:not so impressive... (1)

k4_pacific (736911) | more than 7 years ago | (#20422391)

Maybe so, but it was probably better than that AMC supercomputer I had back in the early 80s. Damn thing rattled and belched blue smoke everywhere and never did work right. It's no wonder that Chrysler discontinued most of their product line after taking them over.

Re:not so impressive... (2, Interesting)

vrmlguy (120854) | more than 7 years ago | (#20422535)

Others have pointed out that this is useful for tasks where the interconnect speed doesn't matter. I'll point out that the first "node" only costs $765, and the next seven are $564 each (then you need a bigger switch). Of course, the 8-way version won't fit in an airplane's overhead luggage compartment anymore. You might want to add a UPS.

I seem to recall a post earlier this year about some other university building something similar using two quad-core CPUs on each motherboard. Their version, too, wouldn't fit over your seat, as it stood about six feet tall. Hmmm, either Slashdot nor Google can find anything, but I thought it used a frame built of pine 2x2s.

BTW, is there a benchmark you have to pass to get called a supercomputer? Why couldn't someone grab a bunch of three-year-old desktops that are due to be junked and tie them together for a shot at the title of cheapest supercomputer? Do those ad hoc arrays that the animation studios re-build for every movie count?

On an airplane? (3, Insightful)

biocute (936687) | more than 7 years ago | (#20421841)

It's small enough to check on an airplane

With security concerns nowadays, it's the amount of cables coming out of it that worries an airline, not the size or weight of this machine.

Re:On an airplane? (1)

arivanov (12034) | more than 7 years ago | (#20421979)

Designwise it is not very different from my first office computer back in 1993. That one had all of its components spread around screwed to a desk so you can easily unplug or plug any one of them and replace with the component you are testing (we ran a small hardware design shop that also did computer repairs). This was long before the days of windowed cases and was quite unusual for the time. I have seen all kinds of reactions: fascination, fear (will it spark), interest, etc.

I agree with your main point though. While you are no longer executed summarily on the spot for running with a backpack with cables sticking from it, that is not far off. If you run with such a backpack on the Tube any nearby dog unit officers hand will go straight towards the release latch (this has made me drop the speed and miss my train from Kings X on more than one occasion).

Check in on an airplane ? (2, Funny)

boaworm (180781) | more than 7 years ago | (#20421843)

It looks rather fragile, quite like the iRack (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xcjLEwZqcQI), and I dont think it would survive checking in on an airplane given how some suitcases looks like at baggage claim.

Cool achievement nevertheless.

Re:Check in on an airplane ? (5, Funny)

ThirdPrize (938147) | more than 7 years ago | (#20422023)

Checking something called an iRack onto a plane is just asking for a full cavity body search and possibly a nice orange jumpsuit.

Imagine (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20421845)

Imagine a Beowulf cluster of...wait...

How is this interesting? (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20421847)

They just linked 4 motherboards together. My cat could do that.

Re:How is this interesting? (2, Funny)

MrNaz (730548) | more than 7 years ago | (#20421883)

Lisa, I'd like to buy your cat!

Re:How is this interesting? (5, Funny)

CaptDeuce (84529) | more than 7 years ago | (#20422085)

They just linked 4 motherboards together. My cat could do that.

Sure. But then your cat would have to moonlight as a mouser, run errands for the neighborhood dogs, and -- worst of all -- give up catnip; all in order to pay for the project.

I would not want to live in the same house as a sleep deprived cat going through catnip withdrawl.

Wussywulf? (2, Interesting)

MikeFM (12491) | more than 7 years ago | (#20422101)

I'm to lazy to run the numbers tonight to compare actual speeds but our dual CPU four-core Xeon (8 cores total) servers cost around $2500 each to build. Looking at their specs I doubt they could be doing much better and they require special clusterish programming.

Re:Wussywulf? (2, Informative)

Draconian (70486) | more than 7 years ago | (#20422527)

they require special clusterish programming
So ? On an SMP machine you need special SMP-ish programming. Great fun if your memory bandwidth runs out...

Some problems run naturally on distributed systems, some on shared-memory systems. It's a matter of choosing the right machine for the task at hand. Programming in MPI isn't that hard, and unless you are network bound (either bandwith or latency) it scales well. That is the equivalent of an SMP-machine not being memory bound (bandwidth, latency, coherency,...)

Re:How is this interesting? (5, Funny)

dbIII (701233) | more than 7 years ago | (#20422121)

Doubt it. You think you can hook up gigabit ethernet without at least five cats eh?

Re:How is this interesting? (5, Funny)

maroberts (15852) | more than 7 years ago | (#20422247)

They just linked 4 motherboards together. My cat could do that.

Would your cat be alive at the end of the process? We wouldn't be sure till we opened the case.

Not the first 4 mind... (1)

afc_wimbledon (1052878) | more than 7 years ago | (#20422363)

Just cat 5! (OK, I'll get my coat)

Re:How is this interesting? (1)

vtcodger (957785) | more than 7 years ago | (#20422575)

***They just linked 4 motherboards together. My cat could do that.***

Sure and Fluffy could probably mount a jet engine on a bicycle too. But could she make either the motherboard farm or the jetsicle actually do anything non-lethal? For more than 15 seconds?

I think it's an impressive accomplishment and worth noting. Doesn't look like it would fit in any of my suitcases though. Not without dissassembly at any rate.

But.. (1)

10bellies (978724) | more than 7 years ago | (#20421853)

..can you play Minesweeper on it?

Re:But.. (5, Funny)

stupid_is (716292) | more than 7 years ago | (#20422065)

Minesweeper under XP - Yes

Minesweeper under Vista - No

heat buildup issues? (2, Interesting)

toQDuj (806112) | more than 7 years ago | (#20421871)

And it looks like they'll be running into heat buildup issues. An enclosure ventilated by one or two desktop fans would have provided sufficient cooling. Mere convection (outside of the tiny on-board fans) is often not enough. The Sun E450's were well ventilated machines, with a clear air path going from the front to the back. The temperature monitors (ambient, cpu (x4), PSU (x3)) were useful as well. One was used for a long time at Stack (www.stack.nl) as a room temperature monitor.

B.

Re:heat buildup issues? (2, Informative)

Bob MacSlack (623914) | more than 7 years ago | (#20421905)

I guess reading the article is asking too much? There are 4 120mm case fans on it.

Re:heat buildup issues? (1)

toQDuj (806112) | more than 7 years ago | (#20422221)

I saw the pictures, and whilst there are fans on it, there is no enclosure around it to force airflow over the most important components. It looks like the fans just blow on the nearest cards perpendicular to the motherboard, causing stress on the cards, and additional vibration, without cooling the elements behind it.

I think this onehttp://www.calvin.edu/~adams/research/microwulf /photos/Microwulf-Pages/Image3.html [calvin.edu] , especially, shows the futility of the fans. Good airflow design isn't easy.

B.

Great! (4, Funny)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 7 years ago | (#20421879)

Now Microsoft have their next development target for Office.
 

Re:Great! (1)

Ramble (940291) | more than 7 years ago | (#20422383)

Actually by the time the next version of Office comes out I wouldn't be suprised at all to find machines similar or far better than this one.

What would you do with one? (1)

Ibn al-Hazardous (83553) | more than 7 years ago | (#20421881)

As seen in other comments, this isn't quite so extraordinary. If you can't build one too (given the $2500), you probably have to turn your geek badge in. So on to the interesting question - what are we gonna do with them once we build 'em?

I'm thinking along the lines of hosting my very own MMOG in the basement. Or maybe decyphering cell calls in real time. Or ...

Well?

Math geek field-day! (1)

Bananatree3 (872975) | more than 7 years ago | (#20421933)

I have a stash of old computers (~dozen) I'm about to break apart and link the motherboards together in their own unified, air conditioned rack...

What's going to be used for? Well, Prime number hunting, pi crunching, computing obscure mathematical constants 99.995% of the US hasn't heard of before....creating my own fractal Deep Field images...trying my hand at cracking RSA numbers with GGNFS [ttu.edu] .



to name a few

I have to mention... (1)

Bananatree3 (872975) | more than 7 years ago | (#20421945)

Not all the comps are old, old. Several are Ghz boxes.

Re:What would you do with one? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20421955)

I'm gonna use mine to run the entire SPEC 2k6 suite on simplescalar with the new beta x86 interpreter frontend.

Re:What would you do with one? (3, Insightful)

davmoo (63521) | more than 7 years ago | (#20422013)

This is kind of like the old joke about a dog chasing a car...what's it gonna do with the thing if it catches it.

I've thought several times about building a small cluster, just for the experience and the nerd factor. But I never do because I also get in to the issue of just what am I going to do with it once its finished, other than heat my workshop.

Re:What would you do with one? (1)

Ibn al-Hazardous (83553) | more than 7 years ago | (#20422233)

Well, now that you mention it... ...I have been wondering for a while if it's feasible to get some computational power from the heat radiators. It's such a waste to just have them burn electricity to get heat. An invention like this would really put the cold north (and south too I suppose) on the computational power map. :) Just imagine, a Beowulf cluster of heaters.

But (4, Funny)

phalse phace (454635) | more than 7 years ago | (#20421891)

is it powerful enough to run Windows Vista?

Re:But (2, Funny)

Corwn of Amber (802933) | more than 7 years ago | (#20422051)

If you mean "without any lag", then it is /required/.

Re:But (1)

edwardpickman (965122) | more than 7 years ago | (#20422387)

is it powerful enough to run Windows Vista?

Only prior to Service Pack 1.

Re:But (1)

kaizokuace (1082079) | more than 7 years ago | (#20422577)

the box only has 8 gigs of ram, Vista might run, then again it might not.

Lame. (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20421899)

I am impressed with how amazingly lame this story is. It should have been entitled, "College Senior and Professor discover Ethernet, MicroATX, and PXE boot. Funding dried up before paying for cases. News at 3 am because we can't find anything else to report."

Honestly, our whole research lab is filled with PXE booting MicroATX computers connected via ethernet. And I guarantee that four "nodes", aka Linux PCs, are cheaper than $2500. Whoop-de-freaking-do.

Re:Lame. (3, Informative)

GreatBunzinni (642500) | more than 7 years ago | (#20422485)

And I guarantee that four "nodes", aka Linux PCs, are cheaper than $2500.

Indeed. After I saw the component prices I was left dumbfounded. I mean, AMD Athlon 64 X2 3800+ processors at 165 dollars a pop? A kingston 1GB DDR-667 stick of RAM at 124 dollars? Are they on drugs? I mean, I've just bought an Athlon 64 X2 4000+ EE for 68euros (the 3800+ was selling for 59 euros) and each kingston 1GB DDR-800 stick for 46 euros. Where did all the rest of the money went?

Big deal - Macpro gets 80 GFlops (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20421907)

So this Microwulf is about as powerful as my laptop. Well done. Glad it looks so good.

the google way (5, Interesting)

arabagast (462679) | more than 7 years ago | (#20421909)

This seems pretty similar to the way google builds their racks, with just mb's and no cabinets. What would have been really cool was if someone made som e kind of network driver for a pci express slot, with them being able to use external cables, is it possible to use a dedicated pci express slot as a interface to another computer, skipping the network bottleneck ?

Definition? (1)

Double Entendre (1123719) | more than 7 years ago | (#20421921)

Out of curiosity, what actually constitutes a supercomputer? Is there a certain threshold of OPS that must be achieved above and beyond what's considered a desktop or entertainment solution (five times, ten times)? Is it a matter of hardware structure? Degree of specialization?

I can't find anything that clearly outlines the criteria.

Not to rain on their parade, but... (5, Insightful)

fgodfrey (116175) | more than 7 years ago | (#20421947)

...this is *hardly* a supercomputer. This is 152.57 times slower than entry number 500 on the Top 500 List [top500.org] . There isn't a nice neat definition of what a supercomputer is anymore, but "capable of running Beowulf" isn't it. Leaving aside the more custom machines that the company I work for (and a few others) build, there are plenty of Linux clusters that *do* qualify. The fastest one seems to be number 8 on the current Top 500 list (a Dell Infiniband cluster at NCSA).

Re:Not to rain on their parade, but... (1)

headLITE (171240) | more than 7 years ago | (#20422043)

Just judging from the performance it's clearly not a supercomputer, you can get more than 26.5 GFLOPS with one single (expensive) Xeon CPU in a standard PC, and it will not necessarily cost more than $2500. But this is a student project, I guess the idea was designing and building a supercomputer, not building a fast computer. And this is clearly *designed* as a supercomputer - it's just not fast - but don't let that cloud your judgment.

Re:Not to rain on their parade, but... (1)

Jonner (189691) | more than 7 years ago | (#20422305)

Microwulf is designed as a Beowulf cluster, but how does that make it a supercomputer? To put it another way, what is super about a computer that isn't fast?

Re:Not to rain on their parade, but... (1)

polar red (215081) | more than 7 years ago | (#20422063)

looks like this Top500 list would do nicely for a definition of a supercomputer.

Actually... Microwulf might well be revolutionary (3, Insightful)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 7 years ago | (#20421971)

One of the problems with supercomputers is that there aren't really very many of them, because of the size and cost. It means that the tools you use to run your supercomputing applications are similarly unusual. The skills to use and develop on parallel systems are then equally scarce. Access to a supercomputer isn't exactly common.

Microwulf could make all of the above common. For the price of a high spec PC. The commodity nature of it could bring super computing and super computing applications to the masses.

Then you can scale your application from microwulf to miniwulf to superwulf with little more effort than installing it on the bigger machine.

Course, they'd have to produce a commodity pre-built system.
 

Re:Actually... Microwulf might well be revolutiona (2, Interesting)

Solra Bizna (716281) | more than 7 years ago | (#20421997)

The more computing power is available in the world, the less it will be used to its potential. If everyone had an Earth Simulator in their basement, how much of that power would be wasted?

Not saying that proliferation of computers is bad, just food for thought.

-:sigma.SB

P.S. SETI@home, Folding@home, etc. are cheating. :P

Re:Actually... Microwulf might well be revolutiona (5, Informative)

forkazoo (138186) | more than 7 years ago | (#20422151)

One of the problems with supercomputers is that there aren't really very many of them, because of the size and cost. It means that the tools you use to run your supercomputing applications are similarly unusual. The skills to use and develop on parallel systems are then equally scarce. Access to a supercomputer isn't exactly common.


Revolutionary? Everything old is new again...

http://www.mini-itx.com/projects/cluster/ [mini-itx.com]
http://news.taborcommunications.com/msgget.jsp?mid =494184&xsl=story.xsl [taborcommunications.com] -- 8 way parallel cluster that fits on an airplane for under 3 grand
http://www-03.ibm.com/systems/bladecenter/ [ibm.com] -- a 7U chassis that holds 14 blades, and is a bit spendy, but not completely unreasonable for some situations
http://www.linuxjournal.com/article/8177 [linuxjournal.com] -- My personal favorite, this page talks about several small portable miniclusters that have been made over the last six or seven years...

Yes, 8 cores of Athlon64 is faster than 8 cores of low power VIA CPU's from several years ago, but the concept isn't revolutionary, and there isn't a lot of headline worthy engineering that goes into a project like this... I'm sure it's a very handy tool, and I'm not suggested it shouldn't have been built, or that it was entirely trivial to build, but in the end, it's just four ordinary motherboards and ethernet.

Re:Actually... Microwulf might well be revolutiona (1)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 7 years ago | (#20422613)

but in the end, it's just four ordinary motherboards and ethernet.
Sure, and I've built similar (bigger & faster) custom systems. But I'm expensive and the knowledge I have is uncommon. Your average Windows admin wouldn't have a clue. This could be a cheap drop in commodity supercomputer.

Hell, the IBM SP was a commodity pre-built supercomputer. This is much cheaper.

but the concept isn't revolutionary
No, the concept hasn't been revolutionary for decades, the effect might be though.

 

Re:Actually... Microwulf might well be revolutiona (1)

MooUK (905450) | more than 7 years ago | (#20422623)

It's still interesting to many of us, simply *because* we could probably build one ourselves. Not in spite of it.
A lot of what us humans do in life is "because we can". This doesn't appear to be any different.

(It slightly amused me that the captcha to log in to post this post was "differer".)

Re:Actually... Microwulf might well be revolutiona (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20422415)

Well, if you are looking for a conceptual testing ground couldn't this work be done with Vmware on a high end PC ?

It's about the possibilities, not the technology (5, Interesting)

Kantana (185308) | more than 7 years ago | (#20421993)

I see a few people making the expected "It's just four motherboards wired together with Gig E"-comments. While I won't object to that, I'd say this is not about a groundbreaking evolution in hardware, more a case of demonstrating what's possible today with COTS parts. Adding to that the compact packaging, and the ability to run off of a single power cord, it's a nice setup IMHO.

While it does not have the interconnect of "true HPC" hardware (a bit of a fleeting distinction, but bear with me) it'll surely be suitable for a lot of the simpler, yet still compute-intensive tasks out there ("simple" here meaning not needing a lot of intra-node communication).

On the flip side, it might fuel the "hell, I'll just build my own cluster"-mentality going around these days. I work in the HPC group at a university, running linux clusters, IBM "big iron" and a couple of small, old SGI installation, and we certainly see a bit of that going around. Problem is, sure, the hardware is cheap and affordable, but getting it to run in a stable and sensible manner without spending large amounts of time just keeping the thing together is a challenge, mainly due to the immature state of clustering software. As many researchers are not exactly keen on spending time solving problems outside their specific field, they're usually better off letting somebody else administer things, so they can just log on and run their stuff.

But for individuals and small groups of people who are computer savvy enough to handle it, things like these are definately a "good thing" (TM).

4 psus, isn't that a waste? (5, Interesting)

bundaegi (705619) | more than 7 years ago | (#20422001)

Sure, nothing beats off-the-shelf components... but powering 4 motherboards using 4 separate PSUs sounds like waste!

Look at this design: http://www.mini-itx.com/projects/cluster/ [mini-itx.com] . It uses DC-DC converters on each motherboards (mini-itx, so low power), a single 12V PSU and a UPS for regulation:

The DC-DC converters require a clean, well-regulated 12VDC source. I chose to use a heavy duty 60 ampere 12VDC switching power supply capable of delivering 60 amperes peak current which I ordered from an online electronics test equipment supplier. Since badly conditioned AC power is potentially damaging to expensive computing equipment, I use a 1 KVA UPS purchased at an office supply store to make sure the cluster can't be "bumped off" by power line glitches and droputs.

Mod parent up (1)

Neuticle (255200) | more than 7 years ago | (#20422229)

I was going to post the same thing. It was the first thing that popped into my head after reading the headline.

Another group is producing much the same thing commercially, in a nice case and all. A 4 node Core 2 1.8Ghz with 1 gig ram per node and 2x 250Gb storage is about $7000 (USD)

(Wonder how that stacks up to what he built speed/cost wise, though I'd bet the Via cluster beats all in power use (140W max load))

See the link at Mini-ITX
http://www.mini-itx.com/2007/02/26/the-octimod-min i-itx-cluster [mini-itx.com]

Company site
http://ainkaboot.co.uk/octimod.php [ainkaboot.co.uk]

Mod parent up (1)

bundaegi (705619) | more than 7 years ago | (#20422377)

Thank you for completing my post. Yes, that octimod setup looks sweet.

For a more hands-on approach, maybe these 200W+ DC-DC converters will do: http://www.mpegcar.com/acatalog/200w_and_above_PSU .html#aD220PSU [mpegcar.com] . The 220W version is rated at 95% efficiency... can't go wrong with that!

GigaFlops (4, Interesting)

jma05 (897351) | more than 7 years ago | (#20422011)

Is 26 GigaFlops significant anymore? I hear that the PS3 can do 20-25 from Folding@Home people. And it is only about a 5th the price. But I hear so many different numbers that I can no longer make sense of them. Why do they bother comparing with DeepBlue, an over 10 yr old super computer? Can anyone with a PS3 can report what their PS3 with Yellow Dog Linux is doing? And what are the numbers for the latest desktop processors? Any recommendations on software to benchmark in flops for my own computers?

Re:GigaFlops (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20422173)

It's an interesting experiment in that it shows where supercomputing can go. If your throw in things like custom silicon ala GRAPE, multiple cores, commodity hardware, you can combine them in very interesting convienent ways. Think of what the gradstudents at a university with even modest fabrication fascilities could do to extend this idea?

The particular advantage to this is if you were a high school teacher, and you had sufficent know how, you could get the local community to scrape together $2500 or as another poster noticed $1000 to throw one of these together and start teaching supercomputing basics to kids in high school. That's quite the kick start into CSE or EE in college. But then there are the ways to exploit that in other classes, particularly math and science based. Cheap, with huge dividends if even one kid in that class finds it to be a difference maker.

Hell, there's not a lot to stop someone from buying up PS3 and ripping out the guts and doing more or less the exact same thing. What's the worst obstical, the ethernet on the PS3 needs to be "replaced"? Not trivial, but then you could have a powerful 4 node PS3 supercomputer.

Re:GigaFlops (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20422519)

The stupidity of this is that you can buy 7 desktops from dell for around 2500 already running linux, hook them up to an ethernet, and have the same result. There is zero advantage to the approach taken by the guys in this article. They really did no research what-so-ever, they just replicated other people's results from . . . 5 years ago? . . . and called it novel research. Their end result is more expensive than just following the beowulf approach and buying cheap oem systems. The amazing thing isn't that the one professor thought it was a novel idea, it's that their entire department sanctioned it with it's own webpage to represent the high-tech research being done at their university. Go figure. Calvin college, eh?

Re:GigaFlops (2, Informative)

skulgnome (1114401) | more than 7 years ago | (#20422439)

Are your numbers on single-precision computation, or double-precision? Because the PS3's Cell only does amazingly quick floating-point on single-precision values. Double precision is six, seven times as slow.

SONY'S LIES (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20422449)

Sony talk so much shit

Re:GigaFlops (1)

Rogerborg (306625) | more than 7 years ago | (#20422543)

Indeed, the main thrust of their claim is "Newer components are faster and cheaper than old ones." Gasps of surprise.

Worst. Article. Ever. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20422059)

"a portable supercomputer with 26.25 gigaflops peak performance, that cost less than $2,500 to construct, becoming the most cost-efficient supercomputer anywhere that Adams knows of."

Dear "Dr." Adams,

One PS3, converted to Linux, has been demonstrated to have a performance of around 100 GFlops. That is significantly cheaper, more cost efficient, and higher performance than your $2,500 pile of crap. Plus, it comes with a shiny case. For $2,500, you could even buy 4 of them and wire them together into a small cluster. That's around 16x the cost-efficiency of your rats nest. Your claim has been directly refuted. Maybe you should read more modern research conference proceedings.

Sincerely,

The Research Community

my supercomputer calculator (1)

pigphish (1070214) | more than 7 years ago | (#20422083)

along the same lines... i have a calculator that is more powerful than the fastest supercomputer 50 years ago. I should send my findings.

Nothing to see here..... (1)

treimor (1094353) | more than 7 years ago | (#20422129)

Move along. Come on, even Hollywood studios [imdb.com] can put out more flops than this.

Calvin? (1)

djfake (977121) | more than 7 years ago | (#20422145)

Calvin College most recent headline was Bush as the commencement speaker. Maybe Jesus helped build this supercomputer (sic)?

Re:Calvin? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20422365)

Jesus built my super computer ?

gigaflops? (2, Insightful)

apodyopsis (1048476) | more than 7 years ago | (#20422147)

gigaflops, schmigaglops.

this is /.

i thought performance was measured in fps?

Re:gigaflops? (3, Funny)

zero_offset (200586) | more than 7 years ago | (#20422437)

Only true if your user ID contains 7 digits...

I like their "south" view (1)

necromcr (836137) | more than 7 years ago | (#20422197)

This one [calvin.edu] . Shows how south they went with the "Can fit on someone's desk" idea. I personally would want to hide it my grandma's closet!

Less powerful than a single Clovertown (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20422201)

You can get single chips that outperform this. Specifically Intel's quad-core Xeon (Clovertown), which has a peak performance of 4 flops per cycle per core. Clocked at 3 GHz, that's 4 cycles times 4 cores times 3 GHz, or 48 gigaflops. This "supercomputer" is very unimpressive.

Holy Grail (1)

hey (83763) | more than 7 years ago | (#20422203)

Did anyone else notice the poster of Monty Python and the Holy Grail behind him?

OK, so we can build it..... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20422223)

now what can we run on it?

Seriously, this looks within the capability of every slash-dotter to make. I know I could really use one of these to do CFD computations, rendering in CAD programs and home computer graphics. But that means running standard software, Linux or (pause to spit) M$. Can the Micorwulf do this?

Definition (1)

newandyh-r (724533) | more than 7 years ago | (#20422273)

I thought one part of the definition of a supercomputer was that the cost exceeds a million (used to be that cost exceeds ten million). Dollars or Pounds, doesn't really matter even with the current exchange rate :-)

Re:Definition (1)

operato (782224) | more than 7 years ago | (#20422299)

definition of supercomputer has changed plenty of times over the years but i don't think cost was ever part of the definition. it was more like "usually they cost this much". more of an observation than a definition.

Any currency? (1)

fantomas (94850) | more than 7 years ago | (#20422569)

A million in any currency, or just US dollars or UK pounds? how about Zimbabwean Dollars or Laos kips?

Done before - lots of times (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20422351)

This is so old-hat it has fungus on it!

Seti farms have been doing this since they started - here are a few pictures:

http://bhs.broo.k12.wv.us/homepage/staff/seti/farm s.htm [k12.wv.us]

Tell us something new!

Do you reckon it could run Crysis? (1)

Starfox404 (1029500) | more than 7 years ago | (#20422361)

Just wondering?

Proper name (1)

edwardpickman (965122) | more than 7 years ago | (#20422373)

Wouldn't that be a Beowulf Cub?

So...? (1)

Dogun (7502) | more than 7 years ago | (#20422429)

In '97-98, I had a little 4-5 node Beowulf cluster on a cart with wheels. While it wasn't quite as cost-effective as this, that's the nature of pricing in the computing world.

On that note... hard drives are good to have for all nodes, imo, since you may be doing things that make 'fetch/store data over the network' a bad strategy.

The entire point of the Beowulf model is it's cheap, easy, and fun. While it's great to see people building cute little clusters like this one, I wouldn't exactly call this a breakthrough moment in hobbyist cluster computing.

That having been said, I hope the machine gets a lot of use, and I like the appearance. I'm almost tempted to build one for myself, for old time's sake. :)

Less powerful than other deskside machines? (1, Flamebait)

niceone (992278) | more than 7 years ago | (#20422441)

This has 4 dual core CPUs - 8 cores. That's the same as a MacPro or Dual Quad code Xeon PC who's cores are more powerful and which have much better communication between CPUs. And they have cases ;)

So a Dual Quad core Xeon a super computer too?

Orac from Blake's Seven (2, Funny)

ltrm (845045) | more than 7 years ago | (#20422523)

A striking resemblance for a box of bits. I wonder if it's got the same surly attitude.
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