Supercomputing on the cheap with Parallella

Blowing open the doors to low-power, on-demand supercomputing

Parallella topview

Packing impressive supercomputing power inside a small credit card-sized board running Ubuntu, Adapteva‘s $99 ARM-based Parallella system includes the unique Ephiphany numerical accelerator that promises to unleash industrial strength parallel processing on the desktop at a rock-bottom price. The Massachusetts-based startup recently ran a successfully funded Kickstarter campaign and gained widespread attention only to run into a few roadblocks along the way. Now, with their setbacks behind them, Adapteva is slated to deliver its first units mid-December 2013, with volume shipping in the following months.

What makes the Parallella board so exciting is that it breaks new ground: imagine an Open Source Hardware board, powered by just a few Watts of juice, delivering 90 GFLOPS of number crunching. Combine this with the possibility of clustering multiple boards, and suddenly the picture of an exceedingly affordable desktop supercomputer emerges.

This review looks in-depth at a pre-release prototype board (so-called Generation Zero, a development run of 50 units), giving you a pretty complete overview of what the finished board will look like.

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Sentience and Old Code

Like many private detectives, “I didn’t get into this business on account of my interpersonal skills. I’m not what you would call a people person.” Even in the future, some stereotypes hold. The secretary is now an “indy”, code that Richie Boss can communicate with silently. He doesn’t often need to leave his desk, but there is still plenty of danger out there.

A storage device with USB (“in primary use from 1995 to 2028″) and wireless connectors. Emulation of ancient devices. Armies of ‘indies’, code that handles a variety of specialty analysis and work. The problem:

So either Pandora’s great-grandmother was one of hundreds who puttered and failed to develop old-timey “artificial intelligence,” or we had something very special on hand. Only one way to find out.

You should find out too.

I was delighted to find Micah Dubinko‘s short story, Ritchie Boss, Private Investigator Manager, on a table at Balisage last week. I’m more used to reading Micah’s long ago work for O’Reilly, but this glued me to my seat and wouldn’t let me go until I’d finished it.

Micah’s story is under a Creative Commons license, but won a contest to be included in Springer’s Finding Source Code on the Web for Remix and Reuse. Whoever decided that book needed to close with a fictional look into the future has my deepest thanks, as does Micah.

Update: Here’s the contest, as well as an interview between Micah and Susan Sims.

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