This is the story of Helmer. A linux cluster in a IKEA Helmer cabinet.




Helmer 2 year!!!!!! and still going!!
Helmer was built to last just a month or two and complete a crazy episode in my life, but have performed faar beyond the original plan. Uptime is crazy, it's full of dust and dirt. Have probably sucked throu many-many cubic meters of air... Helmer have a new pal, a i5 FreeNas server with 16TB of storage. I have plan for new renderfarm and I have also already gotten the new hardware, BUT I have not time to build it. Helmer is doing such a good job I have noo need to change anything at the moment.

Last job just completed a few min ago for a TV-show "Vetenskapsmagasinet" for Swedish TV. Talked about the first fish that got legs and walked up on land.

A dusty Helmer with Bull the new file server. Notice the "on" buttons is the wires on side. To start, just choirt the wires :)

Last job, just done a few min ago. "fish with legs" (model, rigg, animation, camera track and render by me)

My workplace.

The fish. A poly-proxy mode by me.




Helmer is one year old now. Been working fantastic good, and rendered more the a half million frames. Going to rebuild the network from a normal switched to a direct bus. Now network is througha a normal consumer gigabit swithc that handle about 25 MB/s. Now I'll use a Gigabyte EX58-UD5 motherboard for the new Intel i7 cpu as the backbone. I insert 3x2 gigabit network cards so all motherboards in helmer get a separate gigabit cable direct to the board. The new drives are 4x1TB enterprise WD in a raid-0 just for speed. Speed rocks. Safety is for wimps :) This all will in theory increase network bandwith from 25MB/s to 750MB/s!!! Now I can do video/large data processing and not just small hard crunshing stuff.

Here is some pic for the last job I did "Time Capsule"

I post some more here in a few days when I get going on the rebuild.



Yahhh, The TV-show that I'm rendering with Helmer have started airing. Mondays Swedish tv "Odens Rike" SVT1 10:40.

Vert scary, because I have 3 more shows to do!!!

Hehe, You can buy the DVD, already here Kinda funny, because it's not done yet :)


3D computer rendering are very CPU intensive and the best way so speed up slow render problems, are usually to distribute them on to more computers. Render farms are usually very large, expensive and run using ALLOT of energy. I wanted to build something that could be put in my home, not make too much noise and run using very little energy... and be dirt cheep, big problem? :) no computer stuff cost almost nothing these days, it just a matter of finding fun stuff to play with.

I wanted to use Intel Quad core 65 nm or better. I surfed the web and found 6 of then at a good price. Then I looked after the cheapest motherboard that could run these. The result of my investigation was the Gigabyte S-series GA-G33M-DS2R/S2 card.

..and my cat approve.

Next, finding memory. The motherboard could hold up to 8GB of memory each, and I wanted to maximize all I could. Here are the 12x4GB =48GBmemory modules.

Mounting CPU coolers.

Next problem was to find a good computer case that could hold these motherboards. But this was a big problem. 6x cases cost almost as much as the motherboards and CPU's! So here was some room for improvement. I found the IKEA helmer cabinet. Perfect! Who knew IKEA made there stuff ATX compatible. :)


Some extra support for backside of box.


Mounting power supplies and fans in zig zag pattern to maximize airflow.

Motherboard H1, H2 and H3 mounted. Fans on wrong side. I mounted 3 mm plexiglas under the motherboard so it would not short circuit when I installed them.

Big mess on floor.

Disk cloning in progress. I used Fedora 8, and the command "dd" to clone the discs from the bootable System rescue CD disc.

> dd if=/dev/sda of=/dev/sdb

Done! I use the software Dr Queue as batch job dispatcher. All connected to a 8 port 3 com gigabit switch. Common storage using nfs to a FreeNAS server running on a Via C7 machine (that just need 20 W power .. another story :) Instead of power switch I used a simple cable to the "pwr" jumper on motherboard. (Wires tejped on right side)

Instructions of how I did the DrQueue setup is here:

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. one will be in red..


Update 1:
It has been crazy last days. I have got allot of questions regarding details, construction and software setup. I'll do a better page as soon... or I build the Red Helmer II :) Would be fun to use the AMD 16 core Bulldozer cpu x 6 = 96 core in a box :)))

If a hardware manufacturer/pr-guy happened to read this. I'm very happy to receive hardware play around with ;)

Update 2:
It has happened! I filled the ram, and all boards begun to swap. During this the power consumption was up to 800W. Running now a while, I noticed that H1 board (bottom one) gets hotter than the other boards. I think this is because the other boards are cooled from the fan below also.

Update 3:
Well, genral planning and webpage have begun on Red Helmer II - thank you Google :)

Update 4:
First alternative hardware for Red Helmer is selected, and will do about 12Tflops. (64x times faster then Helmer 1) and cost about the same :) Stay tuned for more!

Update 5:
A hardware god may help me, and then Helmer II will do about 50 TFLOPS!!!! please please, may the force be with me :)

Some design test of Helmer II here


Helmer Data Sheet

More Helmer pics here

Get the Helmer desktop image!


Some render tests result here:
The storming sea scene file 24 frames in resolution 4000x4000 pixels.

- On a MacPro 2 x DualCore Xenon 2.66 Ghz with 4 GB ram
took 552 minutes (9.2 h)

- Helmer did same 24 frames in 4k format in 64 min.

Some approximate numbers give Helmer a floating point capacity of 186 Gflops


Here is the scale of Helmer (about 2,5 foot high:)

My other life-hacks are here:
Building a wind sensor from a PS2-mouse
Building a small linux robot
Building a underwater camera house
Building a solar powered UAV

A better spelled version of ths page is here (by Dan - Thanks:)


Some example of rendered frames here.