The Golden Age Of Ever-Changing Computer Architecture

Given the accuracy of Moore’s Law to the development of integrated circuits over the years, one would think that our present day period is no different from the past decades in terms of computer architecture design. However, during the 2017 ACM Turing Award acceptance speech, John L. Hennessy and David A. Patterson described the present as the “golden age of computer architecture”.

Compared to the early days of MS-DOS, when designing user- and kernel-space interactions was still an experiment in the works, it certainly feels like we’re no longer in the infancy of the field. Yet, as the pressure mounts for companies to acquire more computational resources for running expensive machine learning algorithms on massive swaths of data, smart computer architecture design may be just what the industry needs.

Moore’s law predicts the doubling of transistors in an IC, it doesn’t predict the path that IC design will take. When that observation was made in 1965 it was difficult or even impossible to envision where we are today, with tools and processes so closely linked and widely available that the way we conceive processor design is itself multiplying.

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Your Raspberry Pi Cluster Is Not Like This One

Many readers will have had their first taste of experimentation with cluster computing through the medium of the Raspberry Pi. The diminutive Linux capable boards can easily be hooked up as a group via a network hub, and given the right software become a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. None of us will however have reached the heights of the Raspberry Pi cluster shown by Oracle at their Oracle OpenWorld conference, a mighty rack packing a cluster of no less than 1060 Pi 3 B+ boards. This machine is touted as a supercomputer and it’s worthy of the name, though perhaps it’s not in the same class as the elite in that field.

Getting that number of individual 3Bs into a human-sized rack is no easy feat, and they have gone for custom 3D-printed racks to hold the boards. PoE would have resulted in too much heat dissipation, so instead they use USB power from an array of large multi-way USB power supplies. A set of switches provide the networking, and a conventional server sits in the middle to provide storage and network booting.

It’s certainly a cool way to wow the crowds at a conference, but we’re unsure whether it delivers the best bang for your supercomputing buck or whether it’s more useful as a large room heater. Meanwhile you can take a look at a few more modest Pi clusters, with unusual operating systems, or slightly more adherence to convention.

Thanks [Frisco] for the tip.

Just In Time For Christmas: Apple Macintosh Prototype For Sale

We do love a bit of retrotechnology around our workspace. But we have to admit, we really want to find this prototype Apple Mac under the tree this year. There’s only one problem. There’s only one for sale and only two like it known to exist, for that matter. The auction house thinks it will fetch up to $180,000. We will guess that number is low, but we will find out on December 4th.

The 1983 computer has a pre-production plastic housing and a 5.25 inch “twiggy” drive. Apple provided this machine, apparently, to Encore Systems so they could develop MacWrite ahead of the machine’s release date.

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