LONDON – A team of computer scientists at Southampton University have built a supercomputer out of 64 Raspberry Pi credit card-size computers and Legos. Separately, the Open Electronics community has recently been offered a GSM/GPRS and GPS daughter card suitable for attachment to the Arduino microcontroller board.
The Southampton Raspberry Pi supercomputer, named Iridis-Pi after the University’s Iridis supercomputer, uses the message passing interface standard protocol MPI to communicate between Raspberry Pi nodes using Ethernet connections. The system has 64 processors and 1-terabit of memory. The development team, led by Professor Simon Cox, uses Python tools for Visual Studio to develop code for the computer.
"As soon as we were able to source sufficient Raspberry Pi computers we wanted to see if it was possible to link them together into a supercomputer. We installed and built all of the necessary software on the Pi starting from a standard Debian Wheezy system image and we have published a guide so you can build your own supercomputer," said Professor Cox, in a statement.
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Professor Cox’s son James, age 6, provided specialist support on Lego and system testing. The racking was built using Lego with a design developed by Simon and James, who has also been testing the Raspberry Pi by programming it using the programming software Python and Scratch over the summer.
The academic purpose of building the supercomputer was to see if a low-cost platform could be created to enable student to apply high-performance computing and data handing concepts. The high-cost and high-demand for supercomputer facilities in universities usually results in reduced access, particular for undergraduates. While the Raspberry and Lego supercomputer may not be the highest performing in the world it was assembled for less than £2,500 excluding switches (about $4,000).
Professor Simon Cox, 6-year-old son James and the Lego and Raspberry Pi supercomputer
The Raspberry Pi is very popular, but I doubt it is suitable for education: It runs Linux, which is a highly complex piece of software. Beginners should learn from ground up, for example using AVR assembly, then C, first fundamentally understanding the machine, the peripherals, and storage. THEN it may make sense to debate which distribution is the best. Ardurinos are more suitable 'cause closer to the metal.
David Patterson, known for his pioneering research that led to RAID, clusters and more, is part of a team at UC Berkeley that recently made its RISC-V processor architecture an open source hardware offering. We talk with Patterson and one of his colleagues behind the effort about the opportunities they see, what new kinds of designs they hope to enable and what it means for today’s commercial processor giants such as Intel, ARM and Imagination Technologies.