HomeRaspberry PiSupercluster Saturday with DeskPi

Supercluster Saturday with DeskPi

I almost got a cluster

I run several Raspberry Pi 4 boards at home. One runs NodeRED (beginners course) inside a neat mini PC case (with another board running a test server for my experiments). There is a fully beefed-out Raspberry Pi 4 inside the Argon Eon case which acts as my NAS and the Octoprint instance that takes beautiful timelapses of my 3D prints. I never actually run a cluster before. Not until now…

Sort of…

DeskPi Super6C, CM4 and why do I need it?

The short answer is: I don’t need one, and you probably don’t need one either. The long answer is more complicated. Super6C cluster board is a “motherboard” designed to house a set of 6:

  • Raspberry Pi Compute Modules 4
  • M.2 NVMe drives for fast storage
  • mico SD cards (in case M.2 are outside of your budget

DeskPi Super6C is a board designed to enable server/clustering/supercomputing on a budget. DeskPi sent me the combo: Super6C board with their custom enclosure to turn this madness into a small cluster that you can run at home.

DeskPi Super6C Specs

The board itself is a “glorified” Gigabit Ethernet switch that connects all the boards together via LAN, delivers power to each Raspberry Pi 4 board and extends IO from the board mounted in the 1st position (be sure to enable USB in CM4).

The back panel provides you with a generous IO originating from the Raspberry Pi CM4 installed in the 1st lot. Exposed are 2 HDMI sockets, 2 x USB 2.0 ports, micro USB and 2 x Gigabit Ethernet ports for networking.

At the bottom side of the ITX-sized board, you’ll find 6 micro SD card slots and 6 M.2 ports connected via PCIe Gen 2 (2280 slot). Unlike other M.2 solutions for Raspberry Pi 4, the compatible drives for DeskPi Super6C use NVMe (recommended on Amazon), not SATA3.

Enclosure from DeskPi adds extra 2 USB 2.0 ports in the front panel, a reset and a power button that works with an internal toggle for the always-on option and status LEDs for the board’s power and board statuses.

The price for the enclosure is about $60 – a reasonable ask considering the project. It comes with heatsinks for each CM4 module as well. You can get yours at:

Assembly

The process is relatively straightforward. Raspberry Pi CM4 boards are easily snapped to the board and secured with 4 screws. If you picked the DeskPi Super6C enclosure, the box comes with beefy heatsinks for each board and a small I/O expansion.

A couple of screws later, I had everything (well, a single Raspberry Pi CM4 board) slotted in and ready for 1st boot. At first, I thought that the acrylic panel would be best replaced with a metal lid, like the rest of the enclosure, but after the first boot, I realised that would be nice to see all the LEDs inside working hard!

The only thing that you should be aware of is the noise from the 3 fans included in the case. I will replace these with 40mm Noctua fans at some point, as the noise levels are more than I could bear in the same room. I made my 3D printers completely silent, no DeskPi Super6C case will ruin that silence for me.

I do appreciate the cut-out at the bottom of the board to quickly access micro SD card storage and M.2 expansion ports.

What next?

I have two CM4 boards stuck somewhere in shipping, and I’m seeking reasonable sources for another 3 Raspberry Pi CM4 boards to complete the build. For now, I had to open up reTerminal to access the only Raspberry Pi CM4 board I have in my possession. It’s not much, but it’s enough to see if the board is working. I’m pretty sure everyone following me would be rather disappointed to see this running with less than 6 boards inside!

The truth is, I don’t know how I’m going to use it yet. It’s serious overkill for most of the services you’d run at home (with exception of machine learning, which has no limits on hardware and will consume ALL your resources).

What could I do with it? Countless containers, hosting my own website on it and seeing how it would handle the traffic, or running Octoprint for 32 3D Printers… except I only have four 3d printers. All these are ideas. I could also give it a go at TensorFlow or TinyML. Anything related to AI and Machine Learning. It would fare better than a regular Raspberry Pi 4 board, but won’t be a match to my RTX2080 and RTX 3070Ti computers.

Unfortunately, you reading this article written by someone who has very little knowledge about clusters and it’s quite possible, that you already know the topic better. If you are interested in my learning experience from pretty much zero – perhaps you will stick around.

Final thoughts

Do I need it? No. Do I want it? YES! Why? It’s a great little setup to learn more about clusters, parallel computing and servers. DeskPi Super6C faces serious issues. The board already targets a niche audience, on top of that, Raspberry Pi CM4 boards are almost impossible to find (at reasonable prices). These both factors will definitely affect the sales of this board. I’ll write something more meaningful, when my CM4 modules are with me, as until then, I’m using this cluster board to run a single board which is unforgivable! Let me know what would you like to see this board running in this Reddit thread.

🆓📈 – See the transparency note for details.

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