Max Klaentschi likes to render 3D images - but this process is very CPU intensive and can be very slow on a single computer, even with todays powerful processors. Many commercial and research facilities use computer "farms", multiple computers networked together to share the processing load of intensive calculations between them, resulting in a greatly reduced waiting time for the results.
Max realised this and decided that the answer to speeding up his rendering times was to use several networked computers. Of course that takes up a lot of room, not forgetting the miles of cable spaghetti involved in running them. The ingenuous solution was to build all of the computers into a single case with just one network cable required to run it. Building five computers is a costly business, so to add to the challenge the entire project had to be easily affordable. I'll let Max tell the story...
The birth of the project.
About a year ago I was introduced into the world of 3D via my school, which gave out a free software package to all students. The use of 3D was a suggested part of my GCSE Design course work, but after getting to grips with the basics I found that it was incredibly enjoyable to do and found it very simple. After finishing school I continued to explore 3D with new software packages in my own time. As I grew more experienced with the software that I was using the designs and models became more complex using more and more computer processing power to visualise them. Things became especially difficult when I began creating animations. For a 30 second animation with fairly basic lighting a rendered sequence would take the best part of a day, if not more, to compute. My problem could be overcome by ‘borrowing’ family members computers to network render the work, but although this proved faster, it took up the use of office computers. It seemed that I would have to continue to render slowly on my single machine.
The driving force behind the project!
The breakthrough came earlier this year when I had my brother staying over. I began showing him a few of the 3D works that I had done in the past, and explained the problem of render times to him. He joked that what I really wanted to do was to go and buy a load of old cheap computers and have them lined up in the corner to share the load. At first I laughed about the idea, but on second reflection realised that this was an extremely good idea. I began to look about various auction sites to see how much a cheap, old Pentium 3 system went for, but to my horror, the prices were way too high for old outdated equipment. This didn't put me off, however, and I came up with some aims for the project.
1. To create a server dedicated to rendering over a network.
2. To combine a number of computers in order to produce the desired performance.
3. To design and build a custom case to house the various computers, a case that would also be completely original and outstanding.
4. To produce the whole project for as low cost as possible but without and shortcuts in performance or quality.
5. To operate the machine remotely, with the least amount of cables coming out of the case.
The whole thing turned out pretty well - here's some finished pictures before I show you the details!