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Education Hardware Hacking Python Supercomputing United Kingdom Build

University Team Builds Lego and Raspberry Pi Cluster 147

hypnosec writes about a neat little hack using Lego, Raspberry Pis, and Scratch to construct a "supercomputer." From the article: "A team of computational engineers over at the University of Southampton led by Professor Simon Cox have built a supercomputer using Raspberry Pi and Lego. The supercomputer is comprised of 64 processors, 1TB of storage (16GB SD cards in each of the Raspberry Pis) and can be powered on using just a single 13-amp mains socket. MPI is used for communications between the nodes through the ethernet port. The team managed to build the core of the supercomputer for under £2500. Named 'Iridis-Pi' after University of Southampton's supercomputer Iridis, the supercomputer runs software that was built using Python and Scratch. Professor Cox used the free plug-in 'Python Tools for Visual Studio' to develop code for the Raspberry Pi." Lots of pictures of the thing, and a howto on making your own.
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University Team Builds Lego and Raspberry Pi Cluster

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  • by colin_faber ( 1083673 ) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 @09:59AM (#41312555)
    Sorry but doesn't even crack the top 10,000's in machine performance, not exactly a super computer. A cluster yes. Super computer, HPC machine, etc. no.
  • by CajunArson ( 465943 ) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 @10:02AM (#41312597) Journal

    Calling this thing a cluster.. fine.
    Calling it interesting for students to learn about how clusters work... fine.
    Calling it a supercomputer? Maybe if the University of Southampton got sucked into a time vortex to the early 1990's, and even then while the raw theoretical number crunching capability of the RPis would be impressive, the lackluster I/O and interconnects would mean that even supercomputers of that time would still win on many common workloads.

  • Re:Memory (Score:5, Insightful)

    by slim ( 1652 ) <john@hartnup.nEINSTEINet minus physicist> on Wednesday September 12, 2012 @10:05AM (#41312629) Homepage

    SD cards are memory. Wikipedia: "Secure Digital or (SD) is a non-volatile memory card format for use in portable devices.".

    Hard disks are memory too. So are tapes. So are CDs.

    Just because you might habitually use "memory" as shorthand for RAM, doesn't mean it's the only meaning of the word. And why do you think we need the "Random Access" disambiguation?

  • by slim ( 1652 ) <john@hartnup.nEINSTEINet minus physicist> on Wednesday September 12, 2012 @10:08AM (#41312661) Homepage

    I'm a big fan of the RP project. But I'm a bit bored of seeing news items in which someone does something with this Linux box, which obviously a Linux box can do. Raspberry Pi compiles C! Raspberry Pi controls a robot! Raspberry Pi runs MAME! Well of course it does, it's a little PC, and that's what PCs can do.

  • by slim ( 1652 ) <john@hartnup.nEINSTEINet minus physicist> on Wednesday September 12, 2012 @10:45AM (#41313065) Homepage

    Mmm, but it *is* a nice environment for *students* to experiment with the *principles* of parallel computing in a tactile manner.

    I began learning to code on an 8 bit 2Mhz CPU, with 32KB of RAM. If I wrote an inefficient loop, I'd often notice the slowness without benchmarking. If I was careless with memory, my program would crash. On my quad core laptop today, I only notice issues like that if I benchmark or do deliberate load testing. So working on low-spec systems is instructive.

    Likewise, working with clusters of low-powered units on a slow comms bus is going to teach these students a lot about optimising parallel programs. They're going to have to deal with race conditions, memory ceilings, etc. which might not even show up on faster systems.

  • by hattig ( 47930 ) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 @10:52AM (#41313113) Journal

    Exactly, whilst the system isn't powerful, it is instructive in cluster design and programming, which is very relevant at a university.

    They won't be running "real applications doing real calculations" on this thing. They'll be writing student-level clustered applications. For the price paid, it's probably a really instructive system for the university to have installed, if they make use of it in student courses and/or projects.

  • Re:erm, good (Score:3, Insightful)

    by M1FCJ ( 586251 ) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 @10:55AM (#41313141) Homepage

    Of course, this being a teaching tool, having the performance would mean nothing. Having the discrete computing units do.

  • by Simon Brooke ( 45012 ) <> on Wednesday September 12, 2012 @10:56AM (#41313155) Homepage Journal


    There is a whole lot of point missing going on here. Yes, you could build a faster computer cheaper using other hardware. But it wouldn't explain the concepts to children (and to first year CS students, which is pretty much the same thing) nearly so well. Throw together a heap of little itty-bitty boards each of which, individually is, as everyone knows, relatively low power, and knit them together with ordinary cat5 cable, and get out of the collection high compute performance, and you have something which will intrigue children|students and get them thinking about how it works. Show them an anonymous 1U box doing exactly the same job, and you won't get them thinking, because they can't immediately see and understand what it comprises and how it's put together. This is a teaching machine, not a practical machine. It's job is to teach students. It teaches students by being perspicuous.

    It's not (yet) a requirement for getting a Slashdot account to demonstrate that you have an IQ slightly south of that of a stick of used chewing gum, but some of you clearly haven't yet got that message.

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