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Old 12-24-2011, 05:54 AM   #1
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Default Building a mainframe computer

Hi, I would like to know how to build a mainframe computer from scratch. I know this is a daunting task, but I am well-motivated. I have recently heard from an acquaintance that if you are educated, self-disciplined and know where to find cheap parts, you can build a modest mainframe for around 800-1000 dollars. I've got a website he recommended for the cheap parts. And boy howdy are they cheap.

Now all I need to know, is how do I build it, what I need and someone to walk me through it step by step.

My new friend offered to do this for me, but unfortunately, I lost his contact info. So I'm turning to some rather well-educated and talented people here in this forum.

I've also already searched the forum to see if there was already a thread about this, so if one exists and I just didn't use the right search terms, forgive me.

This process may take a while, so anyone I get help from is likely to become a long-term acquaintance.

It's for science. Yes. Group computing is the shiz, and I want to build a mainframe just to donate the computing resources to some of my BOINC projects. I figure if they can do wonders with lot's of people's personal computers, they'd probably salivate at the mouth for a full-fledged mainframe.

I'm also a noob, so this will no doubt be a frustrating task for some. But i'm not hopeless, after all, how hard could assembly be? If anyone is interested, please reply to this forum or PM me and I'll give you my Skype contact info.

You'd be doing the world a lot of good and helping find cures for diseases and all that jazz.

Dr. Insano

By the way, I'm new to the forums, so nice to meet you all.
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Old 12-24-2011, 07:48 AM   #2
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Default Re: Building a mainframe computer

Welcome to the forums.

When you say mainframe, I am assuming you mean a rack-mounted computer with a backplane and one or more Single Board Computers (SBCs)?

Assembling one of those is fairly easy; you just have to make sure that the backplane and the SBCs are compatible, that you have adequate power supplies to run the whole thing and adequate cooling.

Each SBC needs to have it's own processor and compatible RAM, but often you can have one hard drive and set the whole lot up to boot from LAN, with one SBC acting as the server and the rest tied together through a standard router/switch.
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Old 12-24-2011, 08:00 AM   #3
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Default Re: Building a mainframe computer

Yes, that would be exactly what i'm talking about. I would think what I would want is at least 8-10 of these SBCs you mention. And so this project may take me a year to finish. As I mentioned in the message, I'm essentially looking for a long-term mentor to help me with it. As I have no idea what half that stuff you just said would entail.

Terms I know.

Motherboard
CPU
GPU
RAM

Other than that, I have no clue. Wanna help me out?
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Old 12-24-2011, 08:12 AM   #4
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Default Re: Building a mainframe computer



I think your first stop should be here.

I can answer questions, but I haven't a lot of time to sit and write massive tutorials or anything.
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Old 12-24-2011, 08:36 AM   #5
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Default Re: Building a mainframe computer

I got what you meant by having one hard drive and one SBC used as the "server" or main interfacing computer. But I thought that routers were only used for internet, and what exactly is a switch when it comes to talking about multiple SBCs?

From reading that article I figured out that an SBC doesn't involve a motherboard, but that it's typically a smaller more miniature version of one with all the parts, that is then plugged into a backplane, which is from what I can tell basically a powered circuit main board that provides power to all the plugged in "cards" or SBCs, that would be hooked up to it. Do I understand the concept correctly?

By the way, I appreciate your time. It's nice that someone will help me like this.
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Old 12-25-2011, 07:49 AM   #6
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Default Re: Building a mainframe computer

The terms hub, router and switch have become synonymous over the past decade or so; basically, it is a networking device that moves data from one unit to others via network cabling. In most cases (currently), this is via CAT5, CAT5e, or CAT6 ethernet cable with RJ45 interfaces.

In you application, each SBC would have a built-in LAN port, which you would connect to the switch with a CAT5e or CAT6 cable. Depending on the capabilities of the SBCs, this would be a typical 10/100 switch or (if you have newer ones, 10/100/1000 (also known as a Gigabit) switch.

The numbers indicate the amount of data that can be burst through the line; the larger the number, the faster the data can go.

More information
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Old 12-25-2011, 08:17 AM   #7
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Default Re: Building a mainframe computer

Alright. I think i've found a good starting point. Can you start bestowing your vast knowledge of SBC's to me? Piece by piece. That seems like the best way to start this project is to begin creating these. So what exactly is an SBC? In detail? Like I said, I read the article you gave me and it helped, but I need some ideas confirmed and others rounded out. Is an SBC basically a motherboard in a standard computer only smaller but with all the same components? (RAM, processors, cooling fans etc.) And then you connect them to that backplane thing you were talking about?

---------- Post added at 08:16 AM ---------- Previous post was at 08:15 AM ----------

How would I build an SBC as well?

---------- Post added at 08:17 AM ---------- Previous post was at 08:16 AM ----------

I know you don't have time for indepth tutorials, but what would I be doing in a general sense?
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Old 12-26-2011, 11:43 AM   #8
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Default Re: Building a mainframe computer

Yes, an SBC is similar to many standard motherboards in that it contains processor, RAM, built-in audio, video, networking, etc. but instead of having spare interface slots, it plugs into an external backplane.

'Building' one, in the sense of making one 'from scratch' would require some engineering knowledge and a lot of electronics skills and knowhow.

This pretty much falls into the category of, "if you have to ask the question, you don't know enough to be able to do it."

Basically, you have two ways to do it-- design your own board from scratch, and build it, which requires a Master's degree in electronics engineering; or taking an existing board and hacking an interface into it to fit a backplane. You might be able to do the second if you only have a BSEE (or comensurate experience in the field-- I am not a BSEE, but with 30+ years in computers and electronics, I might be able to pull it off).
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Old 12-27-2011, 02:59 AM   #9
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Default Re: Building a mainframe computer

What I think you want to do is build a mainframe from the base components without having to design one yourself. What you may want to do is start from something like a barebone and build and customize your first rack as your primary boot and then go from there, using something like wake on LAN to get the rest of the mainframe going.

Take the baby steps and get one thing working before you start to tackle nuclear fission.
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Old 12-28-2011, 03:09 AM   #10
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Default Re: Building a mainframe computer

Something I feel compelled to mention here is that "mainframe" is a dead term. The more recent terminology is "High Performance Computing Environment" or simply HPC - High Performance Computing. You can get away with a lot of what former "mainframes" used to do by using Blades. These are the more modern equivalent, and most commonly found in arrangements to what Dngrsone is referring to. You can also buy them piecemeal, adding them as money and time scales according to how soon you can get them installed.

Otherwise, you can just use rackmount servers, or tower servers if you don't have a rack, and those are pretty much just the standard for server setups these days.

Depending on the workload and whether or not your BOINC projects are GPU or CPU geared, you may do better with a dual processor or quad processor board, and lots of RAM (and appropriate 2P/4P processors) or going with a single/dual processor board and a lot of expansion slots for video cards (GPUs, such as the GeForce or Radeon series, or the higher end parts like FireGL or Quadro cards.

Either way you cut it, this is not a cheap setup.
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