Building a beowulf with old computers

Washington, G. DR CHEM Gary.Washington at
Mon Mar 10 07:42:01 PST 2003

> Message: 4
> From: "D. Scott" <ds10025 at>
> To: Greg Lindahl <lindahl at>
> Cc: beowulf <beowulf at>
> Subject: Building a beowulf with old computers
> Date: 09 Mar 2003 15:51:42 +0000
> Hi Beowulf experts
> I've got old computer that have 32MB RAM some with 1GB hard 
> disk and 512MB 
> hard disk and some with 16MB RAM. How best to build a 
> beowulf? I've looked 
> into OSCAR but that requires large about of disk & memory. 
> SCE & SMA also 
> require min 256MB RAM. Have anyone built a beowulf with low spec PCs?
> Thanks in advance
> Dan

I have built several Beowulf clusters with low spec PC's. Given the
sometimes small hard disk and ram sizes I wanted a Linux distribution that
would not take up much space after it is installed including compilers (gcc,
g77), rsh, mpich and pvm. You don't have the resources for a smooth running
x-windows and it is not needed to run the cluster unless you want a copy on
the master node so save the hard disk space. I used Debian 3.0 (woody) and
it works great and with a fairly complete installation you are at around 250
to 300 MB of hard drive space and allowing for swap space you have room for
parallel applications. Several computers I had did not have CD-ROM's so I
used NFS to share the CD-ROM from the PC that had one during installation
and after installation to add additional packages. I would suggest you get a
crossover cable and after the nodes are built then a fast Ethernet switch
and I hope you have 10/100 base T Ethernet cards (good ones can be bought
for $5 - $10). I applied this approach to 4 Pentium II PC's (all desktops)
and 2 P1's (one desktop and one laptop). You can run the cluster from the
master node with one monitor and shut the nodes down through rsh. This is a
very streamlined cluster and all the bells and whistles are not there but it
is pretty fast. I know that if you have 25 or more PC's in the cluster the
extra monitoring stuff is essential but most people seem to have fewer than
10 nodes. I can provide more detail if you are interested. I have another
cluster that has 3 nodes running Debian (woody) and one node with Mandrake
8.1 and all is well.
If you decide to spend any money here after the Ethernet cards and switches
buy ram you will see the difference immediately.

Gary Washington

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