80-PIC32 Cluster Does Fractals

One way to get around limitations in computing resources is to throw more computers at the problem. That’s why even cheap consumer-grade computers and phones have multiple cores in them. In supercomputing, it is common to have lots of processors with sophisticated sharing mechanisms.

[Henk Verbeek] decided to take 80 inexpensive PIC32 chips and build his own cluster programmed in — of all things — BASIC. The devices talk to each other via I2C. His example application plots fractals on another PIC32-based computer that has a VGA output. You can see a video of the device in action, below.

The slave boards are simple and use wire jumpers to select a different address on the I2C bus. Each has a multi-color LED that shows when it is working on a task and when the task is complete. So from a blinking light perspective, the computer is a success.

One problem with setups like this is having an efficient way to communicate between processors. [Henk] found that I2C is the bottleneck. Even though he has 80 CPUs, he found the fractal program bogged down if you applied more than twelve processors to the job.

One nice thing about Hackaday is you never have to ask why you did something like this. The fact is, this probably isn’t very practical as a parallel supercomputer. But it is still an interesting and educational project and might be the most CPUs we’ve ever seen running BASIC together.

Clusters of Raspberry Pis, of course, are nothing new. We’ve also looked at some that are more practical.

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