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waku2005 October 26, 2012 19:29

Mac mini cluster using thunderbolt ports
Dear all,

I'm a OpenFOAM user and planning to replace my home computer.
I have used windows and linuxs, but never mac.

Thus, I'd like to know
1) Mac mini (recently launched) can be durable for long CFD computaions ?
2) As an interconnect device, thunderbolt I/O port can be used like an Infiniband ?

Thanks in advance for any comments.

wyldckat October 27, 2012 14:26

Hi waku2005,

I can't comment on the mac minis, because I have no experience on the subject.

As for the Thunderbolt technology, from what I was able to find, it looks like it's still too soon to expect the usage of Thunderbolt as an independent network interface. I believe that Firewire does have this kind of technology, but Thunderbolt seems to still be stuck on the "peripherals only" market:
Basically, it seems that:
  • there's still a shortage in chips for interacting with the Thunderbolt IO ports;
  • the cables are still copper based, although they can pack 10Gbps on each channel;
  • from a conspiracy theory point of view, it would be rather inconvenient if the Thunderbolt technology were to replace all other technologies right now (10Gbps Ethernet, Infiniband, SATA III and USB3), specially when there are still some security issues left to sort out, given that this port gives direct access to the PCI-E ports...
SATA III and USB 3.0 networks are also ideas that people have had over time, but in the first there is a problem due to SATA being oriented to disk data formats; and USB 2.0 and 3.0 have a high latency issue, if I remember correctly.

Best regards,

abdul099 October 27, 2012 18:55

First let me say, I've never used the Mac mini. But anyway I think, I wouldn't use a Mac mini. It is designed as a small server but not for long lasting computing runs. It's the same with Laptops, although they are powerful, they are not designed to run for days under full throttle. During my studies I've heard of some laptops dying pretty fast since the owners neglected the heat production in a tiny case (one avoided that by putting his laptop on an empty beer crate, but it still got horrible hot).

Also the CPU of the Mac mini is not that fast and a fast hard disk doesn't give any advantage for CFD runs as long as you don't save tons of data every few seconds. At least the memory speed seems to be okay.

But when you're seriously interested in CFD, why don't save the money for the design and spend it for performance? When purchasing gaming hardware, you can get much more bang for your bucks.
Of course maybe for the cost of higher energy consumption and for sure it will take more space.

waku2005 October 27, 2012 22:14


I recognized that thunderbolt I/O port issues, it's still too soon.
I'll wait for some time. Thanks Bruno!

As for use of mac mini into a cluster, thermal problems is of course in my mind.
Thanks abdul099.

My priority is on space reduction of somewhat old cluster in my room.
At first, I considered to use tiny PCs like m-ATX form factor, but
heard that the recent Mac mini includes Core i7 3770 and dual channel DDR3-1600 and SSD, unfortunately without discrete GPU.
So I hope to use them as a very small cluster.

Sincerely yours

abdul099 October 28, 2012 12:24

Well for space reduction they are definitely great. And they look better than a 19" server rack ;-)

When Thunderbolt I/O is no choice yet, you might start with connecting via gigabit Ethernet. Should be already on board, and it's not that bad when you connect just a few nodes. And you can still switch to Thunderbold once it is ready for networking.

wyldckat October 28, 2012 14:08

How about a personalized micro-server? Here's such a motherboard: - seems to support the processor the mac-mini carries. And this way you can configure it the way you want it!

And it has a "1 x PCIe 3.0 x16 Slot", which means that you can plop any PCI-E card you want on it :D Or almost any...

And you can also mount the CPU cooler of your preference. And the OS of your preference as well!

As for gigabit networks: you can always choose to do NIC bonding with 2 or more gigabit cards on each machine, although you might end up needing a dedicated switch for handing the network bonding...

abdul099 October 28, 2012 17:51

Hm, and it would support faster memory. Nice!

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