Green Supercomputing in a Desktop Box∗
Wu-chun Feng∗, Avery Ching†, and Chung-Hsing Hsu‡
Dept. of Computer Science
Blacksburg, VA 24061 USA
Dept. of EECS
Evanston, IL 60208 USA
‡Los Alamos National Laboratory
Advanced Computing Lab
Los Alamos, NM 87545 USA
The advent of the Beowulf cluster in 1994 provided ded-
icated compute cycles, i.e., supercomputing for the masses,
as a cost-effective alternative to large supercomputers, i.e.,
supercomputing for the few. However, as the cluster move-
ment matured, these clusters became like their large-scale
supercomputing brethren — a shared (and power-hungry)
datacenter resource that must reside in a actively-cooled
machine room in order to operate properly. The above ob-
servation, coupledwith the increasing performancegap be-
tween the PC and supercomputer, provides the motivation
for a “green supercomputer” in a desktop box. Thus, this
paper presents and evaluates such an architectural solu-
tion: a 12-node personal desktop supercomputer that offers
an interactive environment for developing parallel codes
and achieves 14 Gflops on Linpack but sips only 185 watts
of power at load — all this in the approximate form factor
of a Sun SPARCstation 1 pizza box.
Sun Microsystems introduced the first workstation to
the scientific computing community in 1982. By the late
1980s, Sun had become the undisputed leader of the work-
station market when they introduced the Sun SPARCsta-
∗This paper is also available as Los Alamos Technical Report LA-UR-
1-4244-0910-1/07/$20.00 c ?2007 IEEE.
tion 1, rated at 12.5 MIPS and 1.4 Mflops while running
at 20 MHz.The workstation’s features were so tightly
integrated that they fit in a 16” x 16” x 3” enclosure —
the first “pizza box” workstation.
duced the first multiprocessing desktop workstation, the
SunSPARCstation 10with dual60-MHzSuperSPARC pro-
cessors; but rather than continue to scale-up the number of
processors in the SPARCstation 10, Sun instead delivered
the 64-bit UltraSPARC in the mid-1990s even though its
price-performanceratio was much worse than PCs. This ar-
guablyled to the demise of the computerworkstation, when
coupled with the emergence of PCs as cost-effective alter-
natives to workstations.
Concurrent to the emergence of the PC was the open-
source Linux operating system (OS). This confluence of
technologies ultimately led to the Beowulf commodity-
clustering movement , a movement that dramatically
lowered the entry costs into high-performance computing
for computational scientists and provideddedicated “super-
computing for the rest of us.” However, as this movement
matured through the late 1990s and early 2000s, commod-
ity clusters became the very thing that they were purported
to be an alternative to, i.e., an expensive, expansive, and
power-hungry resource that resides in a specially-cooled
datacenter whose shared use is arbitrated by a batch sched-
uler such as LSF or PBS.
With the notion of “supercomputing for the rest of us”
now effectively obsolete, how does an application scientist
develop a parallel code on the desktop? A dual-processor
SMP platform like the Dell PowerEdge 2650 may neither
be enough to debug a parallel code nor to test its scalability.
By 1992, Sun intro-
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