[Beowulf] cluster building for teaching (on the cheap)

Nathan Moore nmoore at winona.edu
Sat Aug 26 13:47:29 EDT 2006

I'm planning to put together a cluster at my institution to serve a  
computational physics class and also to use for parallel code  
development and small-scale research.  My local land-grant university  
has plenty of horsepower available, so my primary goal is to set up a  
modest cluster that will "feel" like a big beowulf, and will allow my  
students to learn the basics of parallel programming (with MPI - the  
more execution threads the better).  Additionally, the system needs  
to be cheap (less than $5k).

After about 4 hours of diffusing around the web it has become clear  
to me that most (all?) commercial solutions are too expensive and I  
should try to put something together myself.  In browsing NewEgg last  
night one interesting solution was to set up 2  dual processor, dual  
core machines (ie 2 motherboards, 4 AMD 1.8GHz Opteron 265's, 8 total  
execution cores).  Spec'ed out (1GB Ram per core, P-ATA hard drives),  
this looks like about $500 per execution core.

I've never done this before and I'd appreciate your collective input:

(1) Does Linux/MPICH/gcc/g95 work pretty well with dual core opteron  

(2) Am I better off buying 8 of the cheapest Dells I can find and  
networking those together?

(2.5) Do you pay a premium for a 1-u or 2-u enclosure?

(3) In general (processor type, peripherals held constant), is it  
cheaper to buy 2x standard processor boxes, 1 dual processor box, or  
half of a dual processor, dual core box?

Other thoughts are welcome.


Nathan Moore

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Nathan Moore
Winona State University

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