Adapteva Parallella promises pocket-sized supercomputing

Adapteva Parallella promises pocket-sized supercomputing

The Parallella packs a dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 chip along with a 16- or 64-core Epiphany co-processor on a board no bigger than the Raspberry Pi.

Semiconductor start-up Adapteva has launched a Kickstarter project with the aim of creating a 'supercomputer for everyone,' in the form of the Raspberry Pi-inspired Parallella board.

Like the Raspberry Pi, which has been staggeringly successful since it launched despite a few hiccoughs along the way, the Parallella board packs an ARM processor onto a credit-card sized form-factor with a wodge of memory, general-purpose input-output capabilities, and various ports. Where the Parallella differs, however, is in its performance potential, with Adapteva claiming to achieve around 50GHz of CPU-equivalent general-purpose computing performance from its Epiphany co-processor.

First, the more prosaic specifications: the Parallella board, as envisioned by Adapteva founder and chief executive Andreas Olofsson, uses a Zynx dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 processor running at 1GHz alongside 1GB of RAM, two USB 2.0 ports, a gigabit Ethernet port, and an HDMI connection. Its size is roughly equivalent to the Raspberry Pi, but its faster ARMv7 processor means it can run Ubuntu - the operating system with which it will ship. The GPIO capabilities are also enhanced, boasting a total of 58 pins for connection to external components.

It's the Epiphany co-processor that makes the Parallella board stand out, however. Featuring 16 processing cores, the chip is somewhat analogous to the old math co-processors found on 8086, 8088, 286 and 386 machines: a floating-point performance booster designed to run calculations many times faster than the CPU. Unlike the old 80287-style single-core co-processors, however, the Epiphany-III chip found in the Parallella boasts 16 highly-parallel processing cores and yet draws a tiny amount of power: like the Pi, the Parallella is powered through a micro-USB connector and draws around 5W under load.

If that isn't enough power, Adapteva plans a 'stretch goal' for the project: if the $750,000 original goal is reached, a new goal of $3M will be put in place in order to produce a version of the board based on the newer 28nm Epiphany-IV chip. Drawing under 2W, the Epiphany-IV packs 64 parallel processing cores for impressive performance.

Initially, however, that performance will be hard to tap. As a co-processor, software has to be specifically written to take advantage of the chip - although Adapteva is quick to point out that the system will work as a fully-functional ARM-based microcomputer straight out of the box. To that end, the company has promised to release all documentation and source code behind the chip under permissive open-source licences should the project reach its funding goal.

While the Parallella boards are significantly more expensive than the Raspberry Pi - costing $99 for the 16-core version and a projected $199 for the 64-core version, to the $35 RRP of the Raspberry Pi - they promise a significant amount of power in a very compact package, providing the company's funding goal is met.

More information is available on the company's Kickstarter page. If you need some convincing before parting with your cash, try this video of a - significantly bulkier than promised - prototype running Ubuntu:


Discuss in the forums Reply
The_Crapman 28th September 2012, 10:24 Quote
Bet this would be great for folding.
sixfootsideburns 28th September 2012, 13:07 Quote
Originally Posted by The_Crapman
Bet this would be great for folding.

bet this would be great for almost anything computer related!
greigaitken 28th September 2012, 15:31 Quote
i'd get some if i had a need and budget fo custom made software. i dont. surely by the time you spend £50k developing your software... you could have bout some bulldozers.
Guinevere 28th September 2012, 17:02 Quote
Given the press this is getting I was hoping they would have a wider range of examples available online. The performance is promising but the specific details are a bit vague. How does one of these 64 cores compare to say a core in dual/quad core ARM for example? They've shown off a simple math example, but how about something that's a bit more 'Wow!' guys.
Gradius 29th September 2012, 01:11 Quote
Not impressed at all! Look at the video, is uber SLOW !
fluxtatic 29th September 2012, 07:36 Quote
Originally Posted by Gradius
Not impressed at all! Look at the video, is uber SLOW !

Yeah, but it doesn't have the GPU muscle the RPi does. It'd be great Let me get back to you on that. :P
schmidtbag 29th September 2012, 17:44 Quote
For $100, that is actually pretty cheap and a better value than almost any other ARM platform.

The problem is if the performance-per-watt is worth it. An intel or possibly AMD system might be a better choice in the end. Lets hope phoronix tests this out, they did a pandaboard cluster pitted against some intel processors and didn't prove to be a better investment, although it wasn't explicitly worse either.

Since this new board has all these cores on 1 system, it's bound to have much better ppw than the pandaboard cluster.
Roskoken 30th September 2012, 07:10 Quote
Playing pretty fast and loose with the term "super computer" I think.
docodine 30th September 2012, 08:13 Quote
Originally Posted by Roskoken
Playing pretty fast and loose with the term "super computer" I think.

If this is a super computer, what's mine? Future technology?
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