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: