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How To Build a Supercomputer In 24 Hours 161

An anonymous reader writes with a link to this "time lapse video of students and postdocs at the University of Zurich constructing the zBox4 supercomputer. The machine has a theoretical compute capacity of ~1% of the human brain and will be used for simulating the formation of stars, planets and galaxies." That rack has "3,072 2.2GHz Intel Xeon cores and over 12TB of RAM." Also notable: for once, several of the YouTube comments are worth reading for more details on the construction and specs.
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How To Build a Supercomputer In 24 Hours

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  • Pretty sure (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 04, 2012 @03:16AM (#41870743)

    that my old palm pre has more computing power than most human brains on this planet.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Build a computer in 24 hours? I guess it's possible.

      Fund its costs and gather the materials? I guess not.

  • Just use a bunch of AWS instances (or the equivalent cloud system) and enjoy your own supercomputer from the "privacy" of your own internet connection.
    • by DMiax ( 915735 )
      Not if you want to have a result in your lifetime. Cloud-based systems can be more powerful than your desktop, but are terribly slow compared to even an average supercomputer like this one (they are using ethernet cables for the interconnects...). The stuff you want to compute on these machines requires a high level of communication between the processes, else you would simply run them on several decoupled machines in parallel. You cannot access the required speed for inter-process communication on the clou
      • by edibobb ( 113989 )
        Of course the cloud is not suitable for many applications, and it won't compete head-to-head with traditional supercomputers. But is does work for some applications. Least year a Pharmaceutical company used a 30,000 core system on AWS [] for a short period, and a company is already in business [] that specializes in cloud supercomputing. I expect the capability will grow.
  • Title could be (Score:4, Insightful)

    by hcs_$reboot ( 1536101 ) on Sunday November 04, 2012 @03:24AM (#41870773)
    "How to spend $800,000 in one day"
    Price, from comments:

    Just under 750,000 Swiss Francs, or about $800,000

  • Knowing that the base assumptions can make this kind of silly estimate vary widely, I demand the methodology for this number! Once you take into account the frequency and even if you consider that a neuron is ~ 1000 transistors, such a machine easily outperforms the weak human with his 10 kHz (while being *very* nice toward humans) parallel machine.
    • by tsa ( 15680 )

      Yes indeed it's a ridiculous claim. If it has the computing power of 1% of the human brain, why even build it?

  • ... can you build a Beowulf cluster of those?
    • by ls671 ( 1122017 )

      Didn't you notice the modern miniaturized version of on board Beowulf cluster integrated in a chip chips they put it there? I would guess they put about 50 of them in the rack but since it was in fast forward, I couldn't count accurately. Anyway, if they build a Beowulf cluster of those, we will end up with a Beowulf cluster of Beowulf clusters.

  • Now this is what I call news for nerds. None of this 'how would you crap'!

    Go team zurich.

    • by zbox4 ( 2766677 )
      i posted the original zBox1 specs/website here about eight years ago. our server was immediately slashdotted & crashed. quickly fixed it and we had over a million page views in 2 days ;) its the same design - shelves of motherboards arranged in a cube. cold air is blown into the center of the machine which has a custom design to allow even air flow over all the shelves. we could possibly run the machine without the cpu coolers which would double the density. its a little over one cubic metre and needs a
  • by tbird81 ( 946205 ) on Sunday November 04, 2012 @04:39AM (#41870981)

    "for once, several of the YouTube comments are worth reading for more details on the construction and specs."

    Yeah, unlike the impeccably high standard of comments you see on Slashdot. Mod me up if you hate Bieber!

    • Re:Also notable: (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 04, 2012 @05:14AM (#41871147)

      Racist comments don't routinely stay modded up on slashdot as they do on many parts on YouTube. Use of dubious debating techniques such as the strawman usually gets noticed here. Unpopular viewpoints are often modded up to +5 Interesting if they are sufficiently well argued.

      Slashdot ain't what it used to be, but it still has standards.

  • Be Professional about the whole operation:
    1) Brag about how you will succeed well before knowing what it's all about.
    2) Immediately after, seek the lowest standards you should comply with.
    3) Then, study rhetorics in order to getting away with even lower standards.
    4) Subsequently explore the deep and dark lows and lower your standards to the absolute minimum.
    5) Hiring time. Get yourself people capable of realizing your preposterous proposition and seek the lowest fee to pay.
    6) With a bit of delay -bein
  • by hardtofindanick ( 1105361 ) on Sunday November 04, 2012 @04:39AM (#41870985)
    only seems to bother EE majors and everyone else seems to be immune to it.
    • I was messing around with micro controllers a few years ago and had a few mysteriously die on me.
      I started to wear an antistatic wrist strap and did not have another unexplained failure.

      PC components may not be as fragile but I always ground the case before doing any work and wear my AWS when handling expensive or important hardware.

    • The risk is so small that most people, rightly, choose to ignore overbearing advice about the handling of "sensitive" electronic equipment.

    • The risk of damage depends on the sensitivity of the component. For instance good luck wreaking a standard BJT with ESD. On many ICs the I/O is either suitably protected against ESD, or the nature of the design makes it less vulnerable to the effects of a sudden static spike.

      It's a very different story for say working with high frequency MOSFETs, uncut silicon wafers, or pretty much any RF gear. I remember in our lab one of the PHD students was working on a silicon wafer. The instrument had the wafer suspen

  • will be used for simulating the formation of stars, planets and galaxies

    It was nice to hear about the beefy specs, but how about a bit more information about the piece above? What kind of simulation, what software applications and so on.

    • by jovius ( 974690 )

      full specs and the system config: []

    • Re:Software (Score:5, Informative)

      by zbox4 ( 2766677 ) on Sunday November 04, 2012 @06:49AM (#41871393)
      we use various astrophysics simulation codes, i.e. GASOLINE, PKDGRAV, RAMSES etc. some are developed by us. they are all MPI and solve the coupled gravitational and hydrodynamic equations that can describe the dark matter and baryons evolving in the expanding universe. memory and speed of the computer limit the resolution that can be attained, so various "sub-grid" physical processes have to be treated carefully. for cosmological simulations we know the initial conditions - those are the fluctuations that we can read off the microwave background. they show the universe was hot, dense and smooth early on. the codes follow the perturbations into the non-linear regime when dark matter haloes, stars and galaxies form. we can then compare the properties of simulated structures with observational data etc.
      • But can it calculate 9999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999 times 9999999999999999999999999998999989999989899999999999999999999976499 ?

        Just asking aaaait? :-)
        • by ls671 ( 1122017 )

          I just logged into it and yes since bc is installed:

          $ bc
          'bc 1.06.95
          Copyright 1991-1994, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2004, 2006 Free Software Foundation, Inc.
          This is free software with ABSOLUTELY NO WARRANTY.
          For details type `warranty'.
          9999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999 *\
          filter trap
          filter trap
          filter trap

  • The machine has a theoretical compute capacity of ~1% of the human brain and will be used for simulating the formation of stars, planets and galaxies."

    May I be the first to say; Formation of stars, planets, and galaxies my ASS!

    Nominate it in a special Act for POTUS!

    I mean, c'mon. Could it seriously be that much worse than the choices at present?

    At least then, maybe the US populace would begin to grasp the concept of GIGO (garbage in, garbage out) and maybe begin to apply it to the other parts of government. And no, nothing at all to do with political party/ideology. Rather, more a perspective from a "CS101 basics" point of view. :)


  • OCZ Rebates (Score:5, Funny)

    by DarwinSurvivor ( 1752106 ) on Sunday November 04, 2012 @05:44AM (#41871229)
    So who's job was it to mail in all the OCZ rebate forms?
  • and it actually runs Linux.

  • Individually, five words. Collectively, in that order, the cause of me needing a new keyboard.

  • by metaforest ( 685350 ) on Sunday November 04, 2012 @10:44AM (#41872181)

    NO grounding straps.
    NO signs of any ESD precautions!!!

    Lacking from the video is the debugging process.

    Sure they built it in 2 days... but how many nodes came ready?

    I was cringing through the whole video over their lack of concern for basic ESD prevention. They don't need to be wearing bunny suits or anything that extreme, but FFS.... could ya show a little bit of respect for the hardware? Heck even clipping the freaking base-plates to ground during assembly would have been more than adequate.

    That video was like watching "OW MY BALLS" for geeks!

  • A lot more goes into make a 'super' computer than just a bunch of cpus and some ram.

    • Yeah, like infiniband, Linux, high performance high volume storage. Which if you read further you will find they also have.
  • by Grumpinuts ( 1272216 ) on Sunday November 04, 2012 @12:43PM (#41872993)
    Used to do this kind of stuff when I was with IBM about 10 years ago, we had a group in XSeries Manufacturing who specialised in quick turnaround configuration of HPC rack systems just like this. Funnily enough, one of the major logistical elements was dunnage, ie the empty cardboard/foam and plastic that all the option parts arrive in. When running full out we used to have 1-2 guys per shift just to move the rubbish out to the big compactors out back. You wouldn't believe just how much packaging even a comparatively small cluster like that can generate.
  • I sometimes look at the ads for the local computer stores and add up what it would cost to roll my own cluster. At 2012 prices a 32 core cluster (say, 8 Core i5 CPUs) would cost only a little more than my first computer, that I bought in 1986. And that's at retail prices. I'm sure if I wanted a bulk purchase, the stores would cut me a deal.

    Then I wonder what I would do with it, and decide I have better things to spend my money on...


    • Then I wonder what I would do with it, and decide I have better things to spend my money on...



      Turn in your Geek card on your way out.

  • The 42nd fastest supercomputer on earth doesn't exist. ... Amazon EC2 ... virtual supercomputer for an unnamed pharmaceutical giant that spans 30,000 processor cores, and it cost $1,279 an hour. "

    - []

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