Beowulf: a new approach to supercomputing

The key to this kind of bargain-basement supercomputing is tying together standard PCs with Linux. The combination of low-cost, universally available source code and the open source development model that Linux offers makes it practical to build high-performance computers cheaply.

Linux also offers a way around the software bottleneck that has plagued supercomputers for years. Don't think that using standard processors is limiting. The current supercomputer champ, ASCI Red at Sandia National Labs, uses 9632 Intel processors to crank out a 2379.6 on the standard Linpack Rmax benchmark.

The reason these systems are so effective is that there are a great many very big, very complicated problems that naturally break down into iterations of the same, much simpler, problem. That describes everything from forecasting the weather to doing computer animation to running large, computationally-intense business applications. While the parts of the problem may be mind-numbingly complex by human standards, the processor in even a $2000 PC can handle them without breaking a sweat. If you can divide the project among multiple processors and let them work on their parts at the same time, you can reduce enormously the time it takes to get a solution.

Some problems, by their nature, don't divide into chunks that you can parcel out among processors. And there are others whose chunks are too large to run on a single microprocessor, or even an SMP (symmetrical multiprocessing) cluster. Tasks which require very large amounts of traffic between each node (more, say, than 2Gbit/s) are also unsuited to Beowulf design at present, since the network connecting the machines will necessarily determine the maximum amount of data each node can receive or transmit.

A Beowulf-class computer is now a recognised designation in the supercomputer community, and the list of such computers is up in the hundreds and growing every day. For an in-depth analysis of the type of Beowulf machines, and the software that is now being put together to run them, go to the Enterprise section of

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Rick Cook

PC World
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Crucial Ballistix Elite 32GB Kit (4 x 8GB) DDR4-3000 UDIMM

Learn more >

Gadgets & Things

Lexar® Professional 1000x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards

Learn more >

Family Friendly

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Plox Star Wars Death Star Levitating Bluetooth Speaker

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles


GGG Evaluation Team

Kathy Cassidy


First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni


For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Steph Mundell


The Fujitsu LifeBook UH574 allowed for great mobility without being obnoxiously heavy or clunky. Its twelve hours of battery life did not disappoint.

Andrew Mitsi


The screen was particularly good. It is bright and visible from most angles, however heat is an issue, particularly around the Windows button on the front, and on the back where the battery housing is located.

Simon Harriott


My first impression after unboxing the Q702 is that it is a nice looking unit. Styling is somewhat minimalist but very effective. The tablet part, once detached, has a nice weight, and no buttons or switches are located in awkward or intrusive positions.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?