back to article Cash-strapped students hungrily eye up old, unloved racks

How much supercomputing can you do with $2,500 worth of hardware? The four teams competing in the SC13 Student Cluster Commodity Track Competition will answer precisely this question - and more. The Commodity Track is a new addition to the SC Student Cluster Competition event this year. We all know and love the Standard Track …


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  1. malle-herbert

    Who says it's got to be x86 ?

    They could buy a bunch of second-hand PS3's off of ebay... they can run Linux too...

    1. Alien8n Silver badge

      Re: Who says it's got to be x86 ?

      A few years ago maybe, but even my old 80Gb (okay, it WAS 80Gb, it's now 500 Gb) PS3 can no longer be used as a Linux box due to the updates to the machine. Remember they removed the ability to install another OS after someone found the master security. Unless there's a way to hack it back to a previous bios?

  2. Duncan Macdonald Silver badge

    Use a stack of old Dell computers

    Plenty of Core 2 Duo Dell computers available on ebay for under £70 each - 16 of those plus gigabit network cards, a 16 port gigabit switch and a monitor should make for a reasonable cluster (and just stay inside the power budget).

  3. Steve Todd

    Shame that the Parallela isn't currently shipping

    $2500 would have bought you 16 nodes (and change), each with 16 CPUs and with a peak performance of 512GFLOPS. All that on only a couple of hundred watts total also.

    1. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: Shame that the Parallela isn't currently shipping

      I'm still waiting for my two...

      The epiphany cores should give 16Gflops a watt which is approx 8 times that of a Tesla C2075 (515GFlops/225W) and they're flogging off the chips in Jan I believe.

      And my maths makes it 25 parallella boards at $99 so >800Gflops if you use a really crude power supply and a cheap switch and cables and give it something really time intensive...

      1. Steve Todd

        Re: Shame that the Parallela isn't currently shipping

        The cluster version (4 Parallela boards, plus board interconnects and power supply) is IIRC $575, so 4 of them would be in budget. You could use individual boards, but without fast board-to-board interconnects so your limiting factor would be your Gigabit Ethernet, plus you still have to mount and power them.

        Oh, as a BTW, you can buy the raw chips currently @ $595 for 8 of them.

  4. berserko1

    I'd definitely go used.

    There is so much used gear that can be had for cheap or free. I have an 16 blade (8 blades are populated)c7000 Blade chassis a former employer was throwing in the garbage and gave to me for nothing. 104 AMD 2.5Ghz Cores and 640GB Memory and I still have all the money. I have it running in the basement on 2 115v 30A Circuits but it can easily run on one. I have 32TB of equallogic storage and a 12TB EMC courtesy of the same former employer.

    1. Frumious Bandersnatch Silver badge

      Re: I'd definitely go used.

      There is so much used gear that can be had for cheap or free

      I read in a previous article that "[t]eams will have to disclose the source and retail price of their components". I'm not sure if that rules out buying second-hand stuff off ebay or the like, but it would probably rule out "free" stuff that you managed to get through friends/contacts.

    2. Bob H

      Re: I'd definitely go used.

      Agreed, when I saw that budget I immediately thought of the number of used blade chassis that you see on ebay.

      I am impressed that you have one that big running at home, I thought about it and then I thought about my electricity bill.

      1. Bob H

        Re: I'd definitely go used.

        £1000 for 80GB of RAM, 40 Xeon cores at 3GHz

        Cisco Catalyst Gigabit switch.

  5. Terrence Bayrock
    Big Brother

    Ebay it

    Just buy a used CRAY J90 or equivalent (who know, maybe it may even have some interesting tidbits left in storage)....

    1. Steve Todd

      Re: Ebay it

      On 15 amps? You can heat a building on the waste heat from a Cray.

    2. Random Coolzip

      Re: Ebay it

      There's a company over in Hong Kong selling quad-CPU (AMD Opteron 8356) boxes.for under $1500. 16 cores, 2.3GHz, 16GB with a 500GB drive. Upgrade the memory to 64GB and you might have something to show. Only a single PCIe (x16) slot, though. 4 GbE ports, but since all your CPUs are on the same board you shouldn't need that much bandwidth.

  6. Carl

    Dont forget the OS licensing costs

    ha ha ha.

    Only joking.

    1. Rick Giles

      Re: Dont forget the OS licensing costs

      You need to look past the Windows... not through them

  7. JeffyPoooh


    I'd use a Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and rely on it to fraudulently game the benchmarks.

    The only risk would be unexpected region locking.

  8. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    "There's a company over in Hong Kong selling quad-CPU (AMD Opteron 8356) boxes.for under $1500. 16 cores, 2.3GHz, 16GB with a 500GB drive."

    The rules do require at least a 2 nodes, so you'd have to shave something off the specs there to get it down to $1250 a unit. But yes 8-)

    I think there's three possible strategies...

    1) Heavy reliance on GPUs. These may be slow for a few benchmarks (if money is spent on GPUs instead of CPUs) but would heavily accelerate others. Regarding the compiler, gcc does support autoparallelization (for Intel chips, using MMX/SSE/SSE2/SSE3/etc. instructions to speed up vector operations pretty much)... If any project supports turning these into GPGPU code instead (for NVidia CUDA or the like), they could find boards with maximum number of PCIe slots, shove some cards in and clean up. They will want to carefully select a card, since power use and cost both drop like a rock as you go from "top of the line" to "pretty damned fast".

    2) ARMs? Someone may lay out a large number of ARM cores. ARMs plus GPUs would be particularly interesting.

    3) Used hardware. They can get some rack mount Xeon systems or whatever, balancing out cost versus the power usage cap (and possibly space depending on if the systems are 1U or what..)

  9. Sheep!

    Time to make some phone calls

    I just bought a quad Xeon with 8Gb of RAM off the boss at work for £75 (upgrading my old 32 bit server to 64 bit). Given that these guys are far deeper into the industry than me and therefore are much more likely to know people they can purchase ex-refresh equipment from on the very cheap, I can see some surprisingly good configurations popping up!

  10. Terry Kiely

    Workstation Bargains!!

    Loads of XW6600 and T5500s around Ebay right now, brilliant kit for £200!!!

    I am just configging(?!? new word?) one with dual X55xx xeons and 16Gb of ram for a customer who is getting this for the price of a bland pc from the shops!

    To use a motoring analogy, why buy a new super-mini when you can have a two year old XKR?

    plus!- just found this one still has a year of 24/7 warranty remaining!!! now where are those six SSDs???

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