array Engineers turn 64 Raspberry Pis and Lego bricks into a supercomputer

A team of computer engineers at the University of Southampton have successfully created the world’s first super computer made up entirely of an inexpensive array of Raspberry Pi computers and Lego bricks.

Lead by a Professor Dr. Simon Cox, the 9-man team, which included Dr. Cox’s 6 year old son, managed to build a super computer that consists of 64 interconnected Raspberry Pi computers all set inside of a frame made of actual Lego bricks.  The Lego brick stack was built around the Raspberry Pi computers to act as an inexpensive shelf for the computer array and partly designed by six-year old James Cox.

“As soon as we were able to source sufficient Raspberry Pi computers we wanted to see if it was possible to link them together into a supercomputer, said Dr. Cox when asked about the system’s beginning.” We installed and built all of the necessary software on the Pi starting from a standard Debian Wheezy system image and we have published a guide so you can build your own supercomputer.”  He further added, “The team wants to see this low-cost system as a starting point to inspire and enable students to apply high-performance computing and data handling to tackle complex engineering and scientific challenges…”

array2 Engineers turn 64 Raspberry Pis and Lego bricks into a supercomputer

The system runs on a free programming language software called ‘Python’ and has also been tested running another open source software called ‘Scratch’ that was developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  Dr. Cox has named the machine the “Iridis-Pi” after South Hampton University’s current real size super computer, Iridis

The Iridis-Pi runs off a single 13 Amp mains socket and uses MPI (Message Passing Interface) to communicate between nodes using Ethernet.   In all, the system was said to have cost fewer than 4 thousand U.S. dollars (£2,500).  The array has a total of 64 processors, and 1 terabyte of memory.

The Raspberry Pi concept was devised in 2006 and based on the Atmel Atmega644 micro-controller.  Lead by Dr. Eben Upton, he was able to organize and challenge a group of teachers and computer modification enthusiasts to help design an inexpensive computer that would be used to help inspire children to learn more about programming.

The first prototype for the Raspberry Pi was about the size of a memory stick, and included an HDMI port on one end and had a USB port at the opposite end.  Later the computer had a board added and was ready for public purchase.  The computer comes with 512MB of RAM and uses an SD card for booting and long-term storage.

The Raspberry Pi is produced through licensed manufacturing deals with Element 14/Premier Farnell, RS Electronics and Allied Electronics, all of which sell the computer online.  Also, on December 17, 2012 the Raspberry Pi Foundation along with IndieCity and Velocix, opened the "Pi Store” that provides all the software one might need for programming the computer. 

If you think you might be interested in a similar Raspberry PI super computer, click here and learn how you can do it yourself.