[Beowulf] Re: Intro question

Tony Travis ajt at rri.sari.ac.uk
Wed Dec 3 13:40:16 PST 2008

Mark Hahn wrote:
>>> if office, I'd certainly just get minitowers.
>> For office, I would recommend barebones in SFF (small form factor) cases,
>> like those commonly advertised for HTPC (Home theater PC). I have built a
> well, SFF shoeboxes would be a good idea, but they tend to be somewhat
> specialized.  for instance, they normally only have a single cpu socket.
> but they're good because the PSU is often sized modestly (the sweet spot
> for PSU efficiency is somewhere around 75% load.)  I don't know whether
> there would be any problem putting a real interconnect card (10G, IB, etc)
> into one of these - some are designed for GPU cards, so would have 8 or 16x
> pcie slots.  if you're only using gigabit, an SFF shoebox might be quite a
> good fit, including low-power integrated video.  there are "book" format
> SFF's that might do well for the gigabit/integrated approach too.

Hello, Mark.

I bought some IWill Zmaxdp and Zmaxd2 SFF dual Opteron servers with 
registered ECC memory to use in our Beowulf, but the heat dissipation 
problems were really *terrible* and the boxes were incredibly noisy.

> [...]
> I think SFF's would be very nice, though probably would mean giving up any
> pretense of server-ish-ness, such as dual sockets or IPMI, and probably
> sticking to onboard gigabit.  for an office, though, a stack of 10 of them
> would still probably be a problem in total dissipation.

The IWill Zmaxdp/d2 were the only SFF Opteron servers I could find that 
support registered ECC memory. To cut a long story short, I've had to 
replace the standard 80W Opterons with 55W Opteron HE's to get the heat 
burden under control. These are great little boxes, but when you make 
them work hard they are extremely noisy, and none of my colleagues will 
put up with them in an office environment!

The end of this story for me was that Flextronics bought IWill for their 
1U server designs and IWill immediately ceased production of Zmax retail 
products. They are still around on eBay and one or two vendors if anyone 
is interested + mine are working fine now :-)


There was a lot of interest in these IWill SFF servers when they were 
launched, but many people said it was impossible to keep the systems 
cool under load. They were right: IWill said that standard 80W Opterons 
were supported - no way: These SFF servers do work fine with 55W HE's 
though and if that had been more widely known at the time they may have 
been more successful.


Dr. A.J.Travis, University of Aberdeen, Rowett Institute of Nutrition
and Health, Greenburn Road, Bucksburn, Aberdeen AB21 9SB, Scotland, UK
tel +44(0)1224 712751, fax +44(0)1224 716687, http://www.rowett.ac.uk
mailto:a.travis at abdn.ac.uk, http://bioinformatics.rri.sari.ac.uk/~ajt

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