Parallella: The $99 Linux supercomputer

Parallella: The $99 Linux supercomputer

Summary: Move over Raspberry Pi, here comes Adapteva's Parallella, a low-cost parallel chip board for Linux supercomputing.


Chip-company Adapteva announced on April 15th at the Linux Collaboration Summit in San Francisco, California, that they've built their first Parallella parallel-processing board for Linux supercomputing, and that they'll be sending them to their 6,300 Kickstarter supporters and other customers by this summer.

Say hi to Parallella, the $99 Linux-powered supercomputer. (Image: The Linux Foundation)

Linux has long been the number one supercomputer operating system. But while you could build your own Linux supercomputer using commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) products, it wouldn't be terribly fast. You needed hardware that could support massively parallel computing — the cornerstone of modern supercomputing. 

What Adapteva has done is create a credit-card sized parallel-processing board. This comes with a dual-core ARM A9 processor and a 64-core Epiphany Multicore Accelerator chip, along with 1GB of RAM, a microSD card, two USB 2.0 ports, 10/100/1000 Ethernet, and an HDMI connection. If all goes well, by itself, this board should deliver about 90 GFLOPS of performance, or — in terms PC users understand — about the same horse-power as a 45GHz CPU.

This board will use Ubuntu Linux 12.04 for its operating system. To put all this to work, the platform reference design and drivers are now available.

Why would you want a $99 supercomputer?

Well, besides the fact that it would be really cool, Adapteva CEO Andreas Olofsson explained:

Historically, serial processing [conventional computing] improved so quickly that in most applications, there was no need for massively parallel processing. Unfortunately, serial processing performance has now hit a brick wall, and the only practical path to scaling performance in the future is through parallel processing. To make parallel software applications ubiquitous, we will need to make parallel hardware accessible to all programmers, create much more productive parallel programming methods, and convert all serial programmers to parallel programmers.

And of course, Olofsson added, to "make parallel computing accessible to everyone so we can speed up the adoption of parallel processing in the industry", the Parallella had to be created. Olofsson admitted that his company couldn't have done it by itself. The project required, and got, the support of other hardware OEMs, including Xilinx, Analog Devices, Intersil, Micron, Microchip, and Samtec. The companies have enabled Adapteva to bring its first per-production boards to San Francisco, and soon, to its eager programmer customers.

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Topics: Hardware, Linux, Open Source, Software Development, Ubuntu

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  • Bitcoin Mining

    I bet that with the right software these would make great little bitcoin-mining machines..
    • Bitcoin Mining Machine

      This is a good point, actually.

      I wonder how it does perform on floating point operations, and if it does support CUDA instructions. But those really are a job for the GPU unit, aren't they?
    • Bitcoin Mining Machine

      I also immediately thought of this as an alternate use. I'm not sure how comparable it would be to a GPU. It would be interesting to see a benchmark comparison.
      • Bitcoin Mining

        The real question is how it compares to ASICs, the GPU/FPGA days are near an end due to the difficulty increasing with the network hash rate. And it's hard to beat Application Specific hardware for hash rates...
        Vincent Castellano
    • Not really...

      To quote a thread about it...

      "266 kilohashes per second, per chip. Not great for mining."

      About the same as a Cortex-A8 running at 600mhz.
    • It would be worthless for bitcoin mining.

      GPUs are still far more powerful. I have a 6990M in my laptop (1601.6 GFLOPS), and I can't mine quickly at all with it. A nice desktop card is much, much more powerful. A Radeon HD 7970XTX, for example, is 5670 GFLOPS, and real mining machines use more than one graphics card (some up to 4). 90 GFLOPS really isn't powerful at all, and would never be able to mine bitcoins with any speed whatsoever.
      Patrick Aupperle
    • Nope, seriously under performing

      A dedicated chip should be much much faster.
  • Linux: It's over.

    SJVN: he's a hack.
    Sir Name
    • Sir Name = dumb-koff

      It's over Sir Name go find Loverock Davidson and Owlllllnet1 and have a good cry.
      Over and Out
      • Don't forget the 4th mole Cynical99

        The top 4 MicroKlunk Moles.

        It's over Sir Name go find Loverock Davidson and Owlllllnet1 & Cynical99 and have a good cry.
    • Linux: It's over.

      Sir Name You are a pathetic Mafiasoft aka MicroKlunk Mole Troll Shill.

      Go spread your poison somewhere else.

      Your comments are way off base.
    • Wow...

      Your comment has achieved what exactly? Division by zero perhaps...

      You are obviously a schill and I feel sorry for you. No name, no photo, and nothing worth anything really.

      The more someone thinks they know, usually the less they actually know.
      Kieron Seymour-Howell
  • Who am I?

    This device will be dead at launch and is a dead device walking. Is that a good SJVN?

    So let me get this straight. In a "good enough" computing era, this is supposed to do something in sales? If I'm a developer, I'm developing for what people have and use now, not in a decade or more.
    • Your missing the point of the device entirely.

      The idea behind this device is to show the industry the advances that have been achieved in parallel processing. They chose to make cheap and available to every one so they could raise awareness within the industey. As a side effect, the developers that do buy in will start to form the beginings of the code base needed to make the dwvice usefull in an industrial setting.

      Personaly I immediatly started imagining a cluster of these bad boys set up in a render farm configuration. At the price these are going for it would be far more economical to buy twenty of these at the same price as two decent PCs with ok gpus. And this is coming from a consumer, not a developer.
  • Supposed to do something in sales? You've nissed the point.

    It's not a conmercial product; it's purpose is to promote multithread computing.

    Right now, for less than some i5's, you can buy an 8 core amd processor. I can pretty much guarentee you that that chip will not reach it's full potential as most applications currently consider two threads to be multi-threaded.

    We can easily build chips such as these 64 physical core chips, plus hypertheeading right now. These enableassive computing power incredibly efficiently; they can run at lower clock speeds, using less power and producing less heat.

    In a clinate of good enough conputing why would you wat this? Because from smaller packages using less power and with smaller cooling solutions needed, everyone wins. Forget the word server for a second. Consider the word tablet. Yes your future tablet cpuld easily run at a slower clock speed using less poser with more cores than your current one, utiliting advancents in fabrication tech as well. But it needs the applications to take advantage.

    This project is designed to promote interest in, and development of mega-threaded applications. Not to sell in the millions and take over a market. Not everything is about dominence. Sometimes things are just done to help push things forward.
    • It is a commercial product

      but the intended market is those that wish to learn multi-threaded techniques. Saying it's not a commercial product underestimates those selling it.
      • Living up to your screen name there..

        Yes, it is technically a commercial product; you pay for it.

        My wording wasn't very clear, and I apologise. The purpose of the board is to promote multi read developement. As a stand alone product it's not the kind of endeavour that you would back finacially; it has a much smaller market to appeal to that even raspberry pi, and they haven't just made a motherboard with off the shelf bits on it. As a stand alone product it will likely never pay for the R&d of their accelerator chip and generate significant returns on ivestment. As a stand alone product it will be a commercial flop. This is why the product has been crowd funded.

        You are quite correct that the company has additional motives behind development; to promote their chips, their server products, brand image, get publicity, etc. it's what separates them from a charity.

        I should have inserted the word "relatively" for you. As in relative to a company that did want to "sell millions and take over a market"
        • I disagree

          I think it has broader appeal than Raspberry Pi. There are a zillion business uses for this. In the era of "big data", lots of work is being done on parallelizing data mining, machine learning, etc. techniques.

          One of the core techniques my employer uses right now is completely parallel. One of these small babies could massively speed up our data computation. I can think of many other processes where the parallelism could be harnessed. A small rack filled with these cards could be put to amazing use.
          • Massively parallel computers have been used for transaction processing,

            for decades now.

            Banking, for example, could have many thousands of people accessing their accounts, all at the same time, and doing the exact thing, like withdrawing money and updating the accounts, all within the same computer, which contains many processors. The processors all handle their own workload, but the workload could be for the same exact type of transaction, or many different types of transactions.

            Each processor could handle a process, or a set of code to handle a transaction. If you had a computer with 1000 processors, all of them could be doing the same thing for 1000 different users, "at the same time" within the computer. Or, the 1000 processors could be handling a thousand different kinds of transactions at the same time, for 1000 different users. Multi-threading on a single processor would not be needed, since the 1000 processors could handle the work-load quite easily. But, you could do multi-threading in a single processor, which would then give your 1000 computer the power of a super-duper-computer.

            The problem with massively parallel computing is that, most programmers don't know how to spread the workload efficiently, and that's something that the OS for a computer should automate and take away from programmers.
  • I don't understand...

    I don't understand. How is anything with a 45Ghz CPU $99?

    Does it only support a minimal set of instructions that would make it unsuitable for anything else?