Let’s enter the Top500 HPC list using GPUs

The #500 super-computer has only 24 TFlops (2010-06-06): http://www.top500.org/system/9677

update: scroll down to see the best configuration I have found. In other words: a cluster with at least 30 nodes with 4 high-end GPUs each (costing almost €2000,- per node and giving roughly 5 TFlops single precision, 1 TFLOPS double precision) would enter the Top500. 25 nodes to get to a theoretic 25TFlops and 5 extra for overcoming the overhead. So for about €60 000,- of hardware anyone can be on the list (and add at least €13 000 if you want to use Windows instead of Linux for some reason). Ok, you pay most for the services and actual building when buying such a cluster, but you get the idea it does not cost you a few millions any more. I’m curious: who is building these kind of clusters? Could you tell me the specs (theoretical TFlops, LinPack TFlops and watts/TFlop) of your (theoretical) cluster, which costs the customer less then €100 000,- in total? Or do you know companies who can do this? I’ll make a list of companies who will be building the clusters of tomorrow, the “Top €100.000,- HPC cluster list”. You can mail me via vincent [at] this domain, or put your answer in a comment.

Update: the hardware shopping-list

Nobody told in the remarks it is easy to build a faster machine than the one described above. So I’ll do it. We want the most flops per box, so here’s the wishlist:

  • A motherboard with as many slots as possible for PCI-E, CPU-sockets and memory-banks. This because the lag between the nodes is high.
  • A CPU with at least 4 cores.
  • Focus on the bandwidth, else we will not be able to use all power.
  • Focus on price per GFLOPS.

The following is what I found in local computer stores (which for some reason people there love to talk about extreme machines). AMD currently has the graphics cards with the most double precision power, so I chose for their products. I’m looking around for Intel + Nvidia, but currently they are far behind. Is AMD back on stage after being beaten by Intel’s Core-products for so many years?

The GigaByte GA-890FXA-UD7 (€245,-) has 1 AM3-socket, 6(!) PCI-e slots and supports up to 16GB of memory. We want some power, so we use the AMD Phenom II X6 1090T (€289,-), which I chose for the 6 cores and the low price per FLOPS. And to make it a monster, we add 6 times a AMD HD5970 (€599,-) giving 928 x 6 = 3264 DP-GLOPS. If it can handle 16GB DDR3 (€750,-), so we put it in. It needs about 3 Power-supplies of 700 Watt (€100,-). We add 128GB SSD (€350,-) for working data and a big 2 TB HDD (€100,-). Case needs to house the 3 power supplies (€100,-). Cooling is important and I suggest you compete with a wind-tunnel (€500,-). It will cost you €6228,- for 5,6 Double Precision TFLOPS, and 27 TFLOPS single precision. A cluster would be on the HPC500-list for around €38000,- (pure hardware-price, not taking network-devices too much into account, nor the price for man-hours).

Disclaimer: this is the price of a single node, excluding services, maintenance, software-installation, networking, engineering, etc. Please note that the above price is pure for building a single node for yourself, if you have the knowledge to do so.


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  • sami ben salah

    GPU power cannot be takern into account in the Top500 list as Chinese figure out.

    There is no gpu benchmark accepted yet !

    Problem is more software than hardware cost (except network switch which will cost at least 10k just for a 10Gb Ethernet one). Hardware cost is of course lower than the big companies, but a software that can manage that amount of data is a bit tricky.