Sunday, December 21, 2008

intro & specs

the system I'm going to describe is my first step on a new path into shared-memory parallel computing. in other words, here you won't find anything about how to improve your highscores and frame rates in Crysis 3.14 or Left 4 Dead 7.0. :-(

my Z-Machine (when I find a good name for it, I'll edit out ZMachine :-) was designed with these objectives in mind:

1. max power: max number of cards in one box,

2. well interconnected: cards sitting on pci express bus (x16 if possible) and not dependent on the relatively very slow gigabit ethernet switches (which aren't very broadband; in PCIe terminology they are x1 or x2 devices!)

3. quiet operation for office, not sever room setting

* * *

points 1 and 3 suggested water cooling, and when I started reading up on that subject, I was amazed that a little-known box called LQ1000 from a respected manufacturer Zalman has a nice cooling system integrated inside the box. although a bit expensive, it looks great (wine-colored gauges remind one of a bmw dashboard :-)

btw, the box looks like so

and not like this

from a 2007 trade show.

* * *

next: which cards? nvidia geForce gtx280 was my choice (240 cores!). what's interesting, water cooled cards by BFG and EVGA are factory overclocked. great!
I considered the newer versions of gtx260 with 216 cores but the price-performance calculus preferred gtx280. [I looked at the price and performance of the whole computer, not just one card!]

next: the motherboard and cpu. well.. that was kind of unimportant if my hopes as to the gpus were
right (-: so i settled on a run-of-the-mill quad-core intel processor...

* * *

it took me the last week of Nov 2008 to (over)design my machine while scanning the world for the following components (prices are approximate, in CAD):


  • box and cooling: Zalman "ZMachine" LQ1000, with included cpu waterblock & whole cooling system in a midtower. $800

  • cards: 3 x BFG GeFOrce gtx 280 H2OC, factory-overclocked setting, 680 MHz main clock - $686 each at

  • motherboard: EVGA nForce 790i SLI FTW - $350 [FSB clock 1350 MHz, +15% overclocked PCIe.
    Good mobo, except for a tiny northbridge radiator fan, which becomes loud when nb is getting a workout by cuda applications. however, at the end of 2008 there simply were no better boards. I could (and maybe would) have opted for ASUS Striker II Extreme or a Gigabit board with i7 nehelem cpu (socket LSA1366), but then I would have a wrong Zalman cpu waterblock bracket, and the really insufficient PCIe throughput, about which later..]

  • CPU: intel quad-core at 2.83GHz (Q9550) - $300(?)

  • RAM: 2x2GB SLI-ready DDR3 1800 $ 440

  • PSU: Toughpower Thermaltake 1200W [has the required two modular +12V connectors to each of the three gtx280 cards, and is very quiet. pay close attention to the number of available power connectors if you construct a 3-way SLI!] - $430

  • 2 x 1TB Spinpoint harddisks from Samsung (quiet) - $240 (both) [I have a backup partition 250GB on the second drive, still don't know what I gain :-) since if the 1st disk crashes, the second is not automatically bootable... well I'll sort it out later]

  • 1 dvd-rom $29 [nice, quiet], kbd/mouse $10 ea.[spent too little? both aleady failing :-]

  • Samsung SyncMaster 2443BW, 24" 1920x1200 monitor. $350 [I like it, pivots around 2 axes, adjustable height. great contrast etc]

  • OS: Fedora 10 , x86_64, driver: nvidia 180.16 - $0 [I downloaded and installed 6-7 GB over the net without any physical media in one night]

  • CUDA v. 2.1 beta. [installs & works fine; I skipped compilation of those few examples that require some extra libraries]

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