Possbile uses of Beowulf ... ?

Robert G. Brown rgb at phy.duke.edu
Mon May 7 14:20:53 PDT 2001

On Fri, 4 May 2001, Rakhesh Sasidharan wrote:

> Hi all,
> I was going through the beowulf.org site trying to find general
> information on beowulf's (and I did find lots), but there's something that
> I still am not clear about:
>   Suppose I have 6-7 old machines lying around with me, is there any way I
>   could use something like beowulf techniques to make them into a "super"
>   computer ?  I'm just a non-academic user, and the only use I think I can
>   put this to could be to play games faster, or surfing, or plays mp3s
>   etc ...  Individually, the old machines (486s and above) wouldn't be
>   efficient, so is it possible to combine them together and make things
>   work ?
> I went through a couple of articles etc, and that gave me the impression
> contrary to what I am asking; but still I ask to make sure. :-)  Or maybe
> it is possible to take the source code of normal apps, and beowulf-ify
> them ?

This is pretty much a FAQ.  The answer is yes, although you may not
really want to once you understand the cost-benefit of the setup.

The problem with using 8 486's in a home or school beowulf for anything
other than education (e.g. learning to parallel program) or play is that
you'll pay almost as much for power and air conditioning them for a year
as it would cost to buy a modern system several times faster than all of
them put together.  8 486's are really pretty useless numerically, even
in aggregate, by this point.  8 Pentiums wouldn't be much better, and
even 8 Pentium Pros (at a presumed maximum of 200 MHz) would only barely
beat breaking even on a single 1200 MHz Athlon (without the need to
parallel program or face Amdahl's Law with the latter).

Moore's Law is brutal to old hardware.

It is perfectly reasonable to combine old systems like this for fun or
for an educational project, and quite possible that you can find
something useful or entertaining to do with your beowulf once you've
done so.  Just don't pretend to be doing it so that you can get any
particular "real" work done as fast as possible, even with a yearly
budget of only ~$500-700 to play with...


Robert G. Brown	                       http://www.phy.duke.edu/~rgb/
Duke University Dept. of Physics, Box 90305
Durham, N.C. 27708-0305
Phone: 1-919-660-2567  Fax: 919-660-2525     email:rgb at phy.duke.edu

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