How To... Cram a 24-Core Linux Cluster in $30 IKEA Drawers

How To... Cram a 24-Core Linux Cluster in $30 IKEA Drawers

Sonia Zjawinski
Mar 16, 2009

This may win the gold in terms of Ikea Hacks. Tim Molter and his friend Alex Nugent needed a ginormous amount of computational power for some projects and they wanted an inexpensive and elegant solution.

"We already built a handful of dual-core headless Linux boxes and added them to our local network, but we could see that adding more would not go too far because of space limitations. What we needed was a compact and efficient design with maximal core density. Rack mountable servers were quite expensive relative to a hand-built quad-core Linux boxes. We imagined there existed some kind of cabinet that would be perfect for housing a bunch of computers."

That's when he found the Helmer drawer unit on the Ikea website, which he then found out was used by a guy who did the exact same project and was featured on Digg. Tim thought he could do better. After the jump he proves his worth...

The full how to can be found on Tim's site, but here are the Cliff-Notes to how this was done.

Components
(1) Ikea Helmer Cabinet $29.99
(6) BioStar TForce TA780G M2+ Motherboard $79.99
(6) AMD Phenom X4 9850 Black CPU $169.00
(6) Antec EA380 380 W Power Supply Unit $59.99
(6) Toshiba 80-GB Sata2 Laptop Hard Drive $49.99
(6) G-Skill 1GBX2 DDR2 RAM $42.99
(6) EverCool 50mm Case Fan $3.79
(6) 3-foot LAN Patch Cables $1.49
(1) 8-Plug Surge Protected Power Strip $39.99
(1) TrendNet 8-Port Unmanaged Switch $18.49
(6) Linux Operating Systems $00.00
Misc. Parts $20.00
----------------------------------------------------------
Total $2550.11

Each drawer features a host in the cluster that have the bare minimum of components for their applications -- a motherboard, power supply, RAM, CPU w/ fan, and hard drive.

Tim and Alex quickly discovered that the Helmer drawers were practically built to house these components. "The power supply, which is a 380 W full size ATX PSU sits flush with the top of the drawer. The micro-ATX mobo (motherboard) fits in the rest of the space with about a millimeter to spare from front to back and about a centimeter on the left side of the drawer. A regular 3.5 inch form factor hard drive won't fit in the remaining space next to the PSU, so we ended up going with a 2.5 inch form factor laptop hard drive. It fits almost perfectly with a few millimeters to spare. The distance from the CPU fan to the bottom of the above drawer is about 2.5 cm. All the cabling fits beautifully after we removed some of the unnecessary power lines from the PSU. Always take Electrostatic Discharge (ESD) precautions when handling any printed circuit boards or raw circuitry."

Obviously with all those components in a drawer, there needs to be a way to keep everything cool. Tim and Alex made cutouts for the PSU and an additional 50 mm case fan on the back of the drawer, and modded the label holder on the front of the draw to let air in.

Then they simply figured out how to power this bad boy -- power wires were adapted for the small space and a power switch was built in.

photos: Tim Molter

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