Interesting recent results for MPI on commodity and Gigabit Ethernet hardware
The section below is legacy information
The best value for money clearly lies in commodity desktop PC technology. Here we can not only take advantage of economies of scale in the corporate market, but also in the rapidly increasing take-up of PCs in the home.
Our choice of Alpha over x86 hardware is driven by the suitability of the Alpha architecture for scientific applications, which are optimised for FORTRAN codes. Cray T3D/E systems utilise a modified Alpha processor, and the price/performance over Intel-based systems is attractive. As with all commodity components, the CPU market is moving so quickly that such judgements can change significantly. However, the Alpha architecture seems to have a good future, especially with the release of the 21264, EV6 chip that delivers almost twice the performance of our 21164's (at the same clock speed). This is borne out by recent benchmarks run by Daresbury Laboratory as part of their annual Machine Evaluation Workshop.
Alpha machines are being sold as high-end Windows NT PC's and as such can be considered to be commodity computers when compared with other workstation offerings from the likes of HP, SGI and IBM. Support for standard components such as EIDE disks and PCI graphics, and most importantly, commodity memory, also reduces the overall cost of these machines. Performance comparisons with x86 and other systems on the compilers page.
Our current (November 1998) system configuration is:
Eight nodes, each with:
As this is a compute cluster only four monitors were purchased, with switch boxes between shared monitors. The total system cost was 50,000 GB pounds. However, that was at Q2 1997 prices and things have become much cheaper now. For example, 256MB of standard SDRAM cost 1000 GB pounds, but the price is now reduced by a factor of four. This represents one of the biggest single computational resources at Southampton University.
We have configured the system with two development stations that consist of two workstations each. One of these stations has machines configured with Red Hat Linux 5 and Windows 2000 Beta. We are also configuring the other machines to boot as diskless Linux workstations to allow us to perform benchmarking comparisons. However, the primary mode of operation is for all 8 machines running NT 4.