Building the Home Supercomputer

I was configuring a new computer to be used for testing concurrent software, and was using my standard self-guidelines: second-fastest processor available (a nod to economy), as much DRAM as I can jam on a motherboard, and the latest dual-graphics card technology. Whohoo! But then I found this site on building a very economical cluster system and I realized my guidelines were old-fashioned. I’m now in the mood to build my own micro-Beowulf, so I can experiment with parallel clusters as well as multicore concurrency.

Check it out: The system described produces 26Gflops at a cost (August 2007) of $1256! It consists of 4 microATX motherboards, each with a dual core CPU and 2GB RAM, 4 power supplies, 1 hard disk, and 1 8-port gigabit switch. The “structure” is scrap plexiglass and threaded rods – definitely minimal! – and the whole thing is 11″ x 12″ x 17″! Kudos to Professor Joel Adams and his student Tim Brom for designing, building, configuring, and benchmarking this small Beowulf.

Here’s another such system – LittleFe.  And here is a homebrew 10-node system from 2000, with the same idea w.r.t. minimal packaging.

(My main conclusion about my self-guidelines: I don’t need even the second-fastest processor anymore. Nearly any current processor is fast enough for development purposes, compiler and system bloat notwithstanding. This system uses cheap multicore processors, a reasonable amount of memory for each node, and doesn’t need anything more than the built-in motherboard graphics. I would still like a system with a hot new graphics card however, so I can experiment with GPGPU.)

Update Sept 18 2007: Lot’s of people are doing work in this area—which will make it easy to get started!  Here are some more links:

ParallelKnoppix – A LiveCD that let’s you boot up an MPI cluster in 5 minutes!

And on the ParallelKnoppix site, some user’s have sent in pictures of their clusters—lot’s of different (and primitive, yet working) building techniques here!

And this page from Dec 2005 describes how some guy built a “mobile wireless linux cluster” (2 nodes) in order to have access to “big computer resources” while exploring a cave, mountain climbing, a weekend trip to the mountains, or who knows what else.

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