I am very interested in running computer-intensive programs that really hammer the system looking for things like new large Prime Numbers.
It is ridiculous the computer power you can now buy very cheaply from E-Bay for a few hundred pounds that cost tens of thousands of pounds new. Not complaining, I’ll just set myself up with some heavyweight computer gear at bargain basement prices.
In December 2016 I bought a DELL PowerEdge T610 server with 48G of RAM and a couple of lightweight processors for around £300. Another £150 got me a pair of heavyweight processors – Xeon hex-core 3GHz beasts, which has now provided me with some very impressive computing power. A massive bonus is that the T610 actually runs quieter than my desktop PCs – remarkable!! So for a few hours per day I run the BOINC PrimeGrid software searching for new Prime Numbers. The only downside of running these systems is that when being pushed by some heavy number crunching the T610 draws 333W so I can’t leave it running day and night.
I bought the T610 as my son had done the same thing a few months earlier and it seemed an ideal route to get into some serious number crunching with a decent computer system – on the cheap. I hadn’t considered going down the server route before he showed me what was available on E-Bay. So a few days ago I thought I would take another look at what E-Bay has to offer.
It didn’t take long for me to find an amazing offer – a quad-node DELL C6100 for £310!! Basically this is 4 complete computers in one unit with 12 x 3.5″ hard drive bays on the front to take 3 HDDs per computer. Like the DELL T610, these C6100 computers are twin Xeon CPU beasts that will take 5500 or 5600 series Xeon CPUs. My system came with bottom of the range 2.1GHz quad-core CPUs – and I will get the whole system up and running with those processors before slowly upgrading each node to 2.93GHz hex-core Xeons.
I have 4 x 1Tb HDDs in the caddies, one for each node, and so far I have fired up one node with Win 10 to check it works o.k. It runs as expected (slowly with only a 2.1GHz processor) but that’s fine – so long as it works! I have the Prime Number search program running on this one node so I know it can handle some heavy abuse (the processors are running at 100%, but the temperatures are only around 60C, which is fine). Over the next few days I will set up the other 3 nodes and check the Prime Number program runs as expected on all the nodes.
This DELL C6100 came with an 1100W PSU which can clearly handle the system as supplied. However, if I swap out all 8 CPUs for 3GHz hex-core Xeons, then I will add around 15W per processor to the system, or around 120W. In preparation that this might be pushing the 1100W PSU a little too hard, I went back to E-bay and found a 1400W PSU for £40 – so I am (I hope) prepared for the upgrade when I eventually take the plunge.
All sounds too good to be true? Well yes there is one negative. Unlike the almost silent DELL T610, this DELL C6100 is a REAL server, and it sounds like a jet taking off when it’s fired up. It is way too loud for me to be able to work in the study if it is running – but I can use it during the early hours with the door shut, no problem.
For me this is like living science fiction. I had no idea you could get your hands on such immense computer power (for a home user) so easily and so cheaply. The only downside is the equally immense electricity bill if you don’t carefully monitor your use of the systems.
Keep watching this site as I will (unlike T May) give a running commentary on how I get on putting this amazing computing MegaNode together at the New Forest Observatory.