helmer_renderfarm_20080523.jpg

I usually get all excited about tiny, noiseless, low-power PC hardware, but I have to admit that this 24 core, 186 Gflop render cluster built into an IKEA Helmer cabinet is pretty inspiring. Most cool is that when it’s not overburdened and jumping to swap, it’s still a reasonably efficient setup for its performance specs:

The most amazing is that this machine just cost as a better standard PC, but has 24 cores that run each at 2.4 Ghz, a total of 48GB ram, and just need 400W of power!! This means that it hardly gets warm, and make less noise then my desktop pc.

Render jobs that took all night, now gets done in 10-12 min.

Janne opted for modifying the Helmer cabinet instead of using standard PC cases because the 6 cases would have cost about as much ass the motherboards and CPUs. Most of the modification involved cutting holes for airflow, power supplies, and cabling, but it looks like the Helmer’s drawer dimensions accommodate the ATX motherboards almost perfectly.

I’m not all that familiar with the software behind 3D rendering (anyone care to point us to some howtos?), but Janne is using a batch management system called DrQueue that looks quite useful for a lot of distributed applications. It takes care of distributing jobs between the clsuter’s nodes, allowing you to manage and monitor each of the nodes remotely from a central interface. Pretty cool stuff.

Helmer render cluster
DrQueue