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Free Parallella SBCs offered to university researchers

Aug 13, 2013  |  Eric Brown
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Adapteva announced a Parallella University Program (PUP) to provide free Parallella single board computers to universities engaged in parallel programming research. Last month Adapteva began limited shipments of its $99 open source Parallella SBC, which combines a Xilinx Zynq-7020 ARM/FPGA SoC, running Ubuntu, with a homegrown 16-core Epiphany coprocessor.

Last October, Adapteva launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the 3.4 x 2.2-inch Parallella board project, and quickly met its goals. The Parallella can be used as a standalone single board computer (SBC), but it’s primarily designed as a platform for building low-power, massively parallel computer clusters. When the company began shipping boards to its Kickstarter backers in July, it demonstrated a 42-board cluster, which runs at under 500 Watts. The board is now available to the general public, targeting an October release, at $99, or $575 for a four-board cluster kit.



Parallella SBC top and bottom views
(click images to enlarge)

 

Now, Adapteva has launched a Parallella University Program (PUP) to support academic research into parallel programming. Participants will receive free Parallella hardware and development software, with contracts to be renewed on a yearly basis. Program application acceptance will be evaluated based on the potential impact, track record in parallel computing, and the level of openness in journal and source code publication, says Adapteva.



Building a cluster by stacking Parallella SBCs
(click image to enlarge)

 

The Parallella SBC runs Ubuntu Linux on a Xilinx Zynq-7020 or Zynq-7010 system-on-chip. The SoCs combine dual 667MHz ARM Cortex-A9 cores with the circuitry found in Xilinx’s Artix-7 field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs). The key breakthrough here is that Linux for the first time has extensive control over the FPGA fabric, which is connected via a high-speed AXI4 interconnect.



Block diagrams: Parallella SBC and its Xynq-7000 series SoC
(click images to enlarge)

 

The FPGA on the Zynq-7010 model, also found in Avnet’s new MicroZed SBC, is less powerful than that found on the Zynq-7020. The latter powers numerous new products including Avnet’s ZedBoard.

The currently available Parallella-16 board adds to the Zynq’s processing firepower with a power-efficient, 16-core Epiphany-III coprocessor chip designed for parallel processing. All told, the Zynq and Epiphany cores add up to a typical power consumption of 5 Watts on a Parallella-16, says Adapteva. A 64-core Parallella-64 version is in the works with an Epiphany-IV version that switches from a 65-nanometer process to a 28nm process, delivering expected coprocessor consumption figures as low as 2 Watts.

The Epiphany coprocessors include 16 or 64 32-bit RISC Epiphany cores (eCores) with dual-issue superscalar architecture and a quad-bank 32KB of local single-cycle access memory. Each eCore also integrates an FPU, a dual-channel DMA engine, and various timers, registers, and controllers. The coprocessors also include a networking chip (eMesh) for read and write transactions, and chip-to-chip links (eLinks) for connecting to other Epiphany chips, FPGAs, ASICs, or other components.

The Parallella is further equipped with 1GB of DDR3 RAM, a microSD slot, and a gigabit Ethernet port. Both host and device USB ports are supplied, as well as a micro-HDMI port. Four 60-pin connectors provide for Epiphany link expansion, Zynq FPGA extensions, and power, JTAG, and debug functionality.

The Parallella-16 ships with Ubuntu Linux, and all code is posted under open source license. The Parallella.org community site offers forums, schematics, and other documentation.

Specifications listed for the Parallella-16 include:

  • Processors:
    • Xilinx Zynq-7020 or -7010 SoC (2x 667MHz Cortex-A9 cores plus FPGA)
    • 16-core Epiphany-III coprocessor
  • Memory — 1GB DDR3; 128Mb QSPI flash; microSD slot
  • Networking — gigabit Ethernet
  • Other I/O:
    • 2x USB 2.0 (host and device)
    • Micro-HDMI
    • 4x 60-pin stackable expansion connectors (on bottom)
  • Other features — 2x user-controlled LEDs
  • Power — USB or 5V DC; 5W typical consumption
  • Dimensions — 86.4 x 53.3 mm (3.4 x 2.2 inches)
  • Operating system — Ubuntu Linux

More information on parallel programming research grant program at the Parallella University Program page. The Parallella-16 is available for pre-order for $99, with shipments due in October. More on the Parallella SBC and expansion boards may be found at Parallella.org.
 

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