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ASTRA builds 13-GPU supercomputer

ASTRA builds 13-GPU supercomputer

The FASTRA II build uses six GTX295 dual-GPU cards along with a single-GPU GTX275 card to offer 12 teraflops of performance.

You may remember the teeny-tiny supercomputer that the guys over at the University of Antwerp built using eight GPUs across four Nvidia GeForce 9800GX2 graphics cards - well, the guys have upped their game.

As reported over on Engadget, FASTRA II features an impressive thirteen general purpose graphics processing cores for a total performance of twelve teraflops - trillion floating-point operations per second - at a minuscule cost of just €6000 (£5,400).

The official website explains that the rather impressive build - requiring a special cage to hold the graphics cards which are connected to the motherboard via flexible riser cables - features six Nvidia GTX295 dual-GPU graphics cards along with a GTX275 single-GPU graphics card for a total of thirteen addressable processing cores - not including the system's CPU. In order to satisfy the power demands of all that graphics hardware, FASTRA II uses four individual power supplies all snugly nestled up on a Lian-Li PC-P80 Armorsuit case.

A build as complicated as this is not, naturally, without problems: the team behind FASTRA II needed some custom BIOS code from Asus in order to use all the graphics cards together, and is "still experiencing software stability issues, probably caused by an incompatibility between the video drivers and the BIOS and Linux modifications we had to use."

The system - which is designed for use in tomography applications - shows a major speed boost over its predecessor, managing 4.08 computer-aided tomography slice reconstructions per second compared to just 1.14 for the original FASTRA. By comparison, a system based around Intel's Core i7 940 CPU running four processing cores at 2.93GHz manages just 0.18 slice reconstructions per second.

All this power comes at a price, of course: under full load, the rig pulls a whopping 1.2KW of power, which is significantly more than the slower desktop based around the Core i7 chip at just 260W peak draw. That said, the FASTRA II system is four times as fast as the university's 512-core AMD Opteron-based cluster - built almost five years ago for supercomputer work - which draws a massive 90KW under load. Indeed, when energy efficiency - measured in slice reconstructions per Watt-hour - is measured, FASTRA II leaves every other solution standing.

If you fancy having a go at building your own supercomputer, the team has produced a list of the hardware used in FASTRA II.

Does GPGPU represent the future of supercomputing, or is it only a matter of time before the CPU reigns supreme once again? Share your thoughts over in the forums.

31 Comments

Discuss in the forums Reply
adam_bagpuss 15th December 2009, 10:19 Quote
*droooooool* urgugghrugugguhghghg

can i have it
scawp 15th December 2009, 10:20 Quote
Bet it still won't run crysis on high settings....
proxess 15th December 2009, 10:21 Quote
Cool... where's the custom bios? Where can we get it?
DragunovHUN 15th December 2009, 10:22 Quote
Hmm i wonder how well it can fold.
cyrilthefish 15th December 2009, 10:32 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by scawp
Bet it still won't run crysis on high settings....
Well someone had to say it i guess :D
StoneyMahoney 15th December 2009, 10:32 Quote
Pride of place in a friend's collection of old computer parts is an ancient motherboard with an ancient processor complete with ancient maths coprocessor in it's own socket, a 386/387 IIRC. Using custom add-ins to accelerate functions by taking them off the CPU is something we've been doing for decades, for all kinds of reasons. After all, what is a GPU but a chip that's very good at performing lots of mathematical calculations in parallel? It was only a matter of time before someone gave us a way to leverage that specialty for other purposes. That time was a little while ago, and it's nice to see people taking extreme advantage of that and showing just what a kickass idea it was.

Must show my better half this, she works in Nuclear Medicine...
theskirrid 15th December 2009, 10:49 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by StoneyMahoney

Must show my better half this, she works in Nuclear Medicine...

Does that involve helping poorly electrons regain their spin :D
mclean007 15th December 2009, 11:28 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by theskirrid
Quote:
Originally Posted by StoneyMahoney

Must show my better half this, she works in Nuclear Medicine...

Does that involve helping poorly electrons regain their spin :D
I'm crowning you King of Bad Banter for that effort! :D
cyrilthefish 15th December 2009, 11:30 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by theskirrid
Does that involve helping poorly electrons regain their spin :D
What an awesome first post ;)

:D
StoneyMahoney 15th December 2009, 11:45 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by mclean007
Quote:
Originally Posted by theskirrid
Quote:
Originally Posted by StoneyMahoney

Must show my better half this, she works in Nuclear Medicine...

Does that involve helping poorly electrons regain their spin :D
I'm crowning you King of Bad Banter for that effort! :D

I'd have thought more comment worthy was the fact that my fiancee might be interested in a custom-built PC with 7 graphics cards running Linux. Tomography attracts all sorts, I guess.

PS. She's mine, get yer own :p
N!ck 15th December 2009, 13:02 Quote
So is it Fastra or Astra???
N!ck 15th December 2009, 13:07 Quote
Anyway good rig ;) but 5970 would be better ))))
andrew8200m 15th December 2009, 13:08 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by N!ck
So is it Fastra or Astra???

Little confused by that too mate.

Putting the name aside, Its a brilliant idea and concept I must say! And as its for a good cause I hope they have had all the support they need.

Andy
leexgx 15th December 2009, 14:03 Quote
very nice setup thought, they used linux this time round

to bad the video cards will only last 6 months at best as GTX295 (Single side versions) are not known for been reliable for folding and they do something cida the same type of load, 9800GX2 cards far more reliable and only 25% less power full (GTX295 is like having 3 9800 video cards) 9800GX2 cards tend to be more stable as well (had mine for year now all still going)
SchizoFrog 15th December 2009, 14:47 Quote
Isn't it ASTRA that built FASTRA II?
SchizoFrog 15th December 2009, 14:49 Quote
Yes... I was correct.
ASTRA is the research group that designed and then built the FASTRA II machine.
B1GBUD 15th December 2009, 16:23 Quote
Now all it needs is a Vauxhall badge
alpaca 15th December 2009, 17:49 Quote
that's wat i call a desktop pc!
loner1994 15th December 2009, 19:15 Quote
if you look at the old vidios for fastra origanal they have one of the team being caught while playing crysis
ZERO <ibis> 15th December 2009, 19:23 Quote
That is my desktop minus the watercooling! They got my m/b and everything! Well at least I know my system potential.
dark_avenger 15th December 2009, 22:49 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by DragunovHUN
Hmm i wonder how well it can fold.

+1
Turbotab 15th December 2009, 23:04 Quote
"FASTRA II features an impressive thirteen general purpose graphics processing cores for a total performance of twelve teraflops"

You know who to call, when you need a machine to crack your forgotten admin password!
Sheiken 15th December 2009, 23:30 Quote
I know it is intended for folding and hardcore number crunching.
BUT come on! Look at that tiny screen :P
rollo 15th December 2009, 23:53 Quote
screen is only there so they can start up the program required for folding i guess

wts networking then they wouldnt even need that lol
dark_avenger 16th December 2009, 00:02 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Sheiken
I know it is intended for folding and hardcore number crunching.
BUT come on! Look at that tiny screen :P

it's running linux, we all know using a screen or a GUI on linux is for wimps :D
The_Beast 16th December 2009, 01:23 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by scawp
Bet it still won't run crysis on high settings....

you beat me too it >:(
confusis 16th December 2009, 08:25 Quote
how do the cards keep cool that close?
Farting Bob 16th December 2009, 11:51 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by confusis
how do the cards keep cool that close?
It sounds like they keep the side of the case, so all the cards can raw in fresh air easily, and then expell it mostly out the back. Id imagine some of the card in the middle of the stack would gt pretty hot after long usage, but the fans can ramp up to insane speeds on such cards and noise isnt an issue.
kenco_uk 16th December 2009, 12:17 Quote
150 of those and it'd be the fastest supercomputer in the world.
Turbotab 16th December 2009, 13:01 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by kenco_uk
150 of those and it'd be the fastest supercomputer in the world.

But the supercomputing chaps mostly care about double precision performance, and in that role the GTX 295 only achieves 149 GFLOPS, hence the need for Fermi. Also certain tasks run really poorly on a GPU, compared to a CPU.
linkdiablo 27th July 2010, 17:30 Quote
Asus is preparing the Mars 2 : dual GTX480 on a stick, thsi should solve any deficiencies the GTX295 has I believe. I need this setup
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