Engineers build a Raspberry Pi supercomputer out of 64 mini PCs

The Raspberry Pi isn’t exactly a speed demon. The $35 computer has a 700 MHz ARM11 processor which is enough for basic computing tasks, and HD video playback. But in order to keep the price low and the mini PC accessible, the Raspberry Pi foundation used a chipset that’s a few years old and not as capable as most newer ARM-based processors.

But engineers at the University of Southampton figured if you take enough of the low power PCs and set them up to work together, you could build a cost-effective, energy-efficient supercomputer.

So that’s what they did.

Raspberry Pi SuperComputer

They took 64 Raspberry Pi devices, outfitted each one with a 16GB SD card for a total of 1TB Of storage, and built a custom case to house the computers using Legos.

Once all the systems are powered up and connected via a local network, the trick is to configure software that lets you run operating systems across multiple nodes so that you can use all those extra Raspberry Pi computers to improve overall performance.

You can find out how the engineers did that by checking out the software installation steps (PDF link).

Or you can just look at more pretty pictures of the finished project in action, starring Professor Simon Cox and his 6-year-old son and Lego expert, James Cox.

via OStatic

  • gadgety

    Very cool. And that Lego rack is fabulous!

    BTW, NOW I know why there’s such a lack of pi’s around. Wait, wait, wait.

  • http://rationaldreaming.com/ Mike

    Very cool. Maybe it’ll spark an “arms-race” as others have a go…

    I do have to wonder, though, what the definition of “supercomputer” has become in the light of calling this setup a supercomputer. I couldn’t see any performance figures, but I’d be highly skeptical if it was more than a small fraction of a real present-day supercomputer performance.

    If I decide to hook up a thousand 6502 processors in the same way, I still won’t have a supercomputer on my hands.

    • digi_owl

      While i agree that cluster would be more appropriate, these days all supercomputers are clusters in one way or another.

  • toz

    Since Allowinner A10 SoC’s are so damn cheap, I wonder how long it’ll take before someone makes a backplane & a whole stacks of CPU cards based on it.
    The A10 has a few features that makes it more attractive than a RPi, including built-in S-ata support and support for up-to 1GB of ram.

  • digi_owl

    Heh, i think Charbax has a video from a Ubuntu convention where one presenter talks about Ubuntu on Beagleboards. He basically built something similar to do program compile and packaging for ARMv7 and found himself with a custom power supply he claims could potentially do welding if shorted.

  • http://twitter.com/PeterMcAllister Pierre Gorissen

    OK, great, but just how “super” is this supercomputer? How does it compare to my $1.000 i7 desktop when it comes to processing power? I could find nothing on their website or the press release that gives any indication of that.

    • BenjaminDews

      Processing power?
      Doing very simple maths would give you an estimated 44.8ghz. Of course theres factors that would make it a fair bit slower than that, but certainly more than an i7.

  • floriano
  • Chris Roge

    Could this be used to host a virtualization server, perhaps running any desired OS, such as Ubuntu or even Windows? I’d enjoy doing this more if I knew that I could present a VDI environment to my household…

  • Saj

    Hi,

    I have been trying hard to find out how this contraption actually compares to a normal PC.

    Even on Prof. Cox’s page, the photos of the racked up PIs are there but no photos of how it stacks up with the rest of the available options such as Laptop,Desktop etc running a similar application such as Writer, Calc etc.

    Wonder if anyone could care to throw some light on this aspect of bench marking with other alternatives.

    Or is that I have missed the plot. Its only a proof of concept that it can be built and run but there aren’t enough applications to compare.

    Please advise..

    Cheers
    Saj

  • Charles Smyth

    The network speed would be the biggest impediment to the speed of the system.