Atomic pi for data crunching

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Message 99347 - Posted: 17 Jun 2020, 18:48:26 UTC
Last modified: 17 Jun 2020, 18:54:41 UTC

So I've been playing around with the idea of buying a few of these atomic pi boards, powered by a generic 5V 100W PSU. They're $30 on Amazon, with a lot more potential than a raspberry pi of equivalent rating.

From the benchmarks, the atomic pi and the Raspberry pi are very close in CPU performance (the Pi slightly outperforming it). However, the Atomic pi has an OpenCL driver that supposedly works for OpenCL computations, which makes it interesting; as the Pi 4B still doesn't have OpenCL support.
Although some beta driver has been made to make OpenCL possible on older model Pi (3 and below), I don't think that the performance will be any good on those (not to mention project support for these GPUs?).

The Atomic Pi runs an Atom x5-Z8350 CPU, built at 14nm, and consume just about the same amount of power as a Pi4B+ (5V 2 to 3A = 15W, peaking 20W with CPU & GPU benchmarks).

The closest to this that I own is an Intel Atom N3060 on my $300 HP laptop ($200-250 online today), which has a 6W TDP package, but averages at 20W peak as well.

The performance differences are minute between the 3060 and the Z8350.
At 2,48Ghz, the dual core N3060 is slightly slower on CPU benchmarks than the quad core Z8350 at 1,44Ghz, despite it's faster memory access.
The n3060 has only 2 CPU cores clocked at 1,6Ghz, with 2,48Ghz boost, which it attains forever when the CPU load is 100% @ 2 threads.
With only 1 thread, the CPU down-clocks itself to ~1240Mhz (shifts between ~800Mhz and ~2Ghz), which is kind of disappointing. It effectively halves the performance per thread.

Once the GPU comes into play,
With 0 CPU threads, and 1 GPU thread, the GPU only runs between 500Mhz and 580Mhz, coming shy by 20Mhz of it's peak 600Mhz. The CPU speed hovers between 500 and 800Mhz average.

Adding 1 CPU thread, the CPU speed increases to 1600Mhz, while the GPU lows start from 550Mhz to 580Mhz highs.
I suppose the increase in CPU activity, allowed the GPU to be fed better.

Running 2 CPU threads, and initially the CPU will alternate between 2,48Ghz and 1600Mhz for a few seconds, to a good minute before locking into 1600Mhz.
It then slows down further to 1280Mhz, and locks itself to 1040Mhz.
This is only the case with the GPU enabled, and appears to be time based, not temperature based, although the temperature never exceeds 75C for the package (71C on core 1, and 77C on core 2 are the highest recorded).
Thigh for the 3060 CPU is set to 90C.
The 3060 GPU itself remains operating between 535 and 600Mhz (fluctuating) on 2 CPU core load in all occasions (probably prioritizing the GPU over CPU).

Meanwhile CPU only benchmarks on the Z8350 show a speed drop at ~60C to 1,44Ghz from the 1,9Ghz, on the passive heat sink. Meaning, even minute airflow over the relatively huge heat sinks for the TDP, will most certainly keep temps below 45C, and boost between 1,44-1,92Ghz.

I still need to receive them for testing.

The X5 Z8350 has a 200-500Mhz boost GPU, vs the 300-600 of the N3060.
So GPU will be slower.

I'm just hoping that this system won't suffer CPU speed when the GPU is active, as it already has very low performance.

So what makes it interesting as a CPU server?
It's made on 14nm, but competes in power with a 40nm Pi 4b, as well as in price, AND performance!
This only because the CPU only supports 1DIMM of 2GB max, which seriously hampers CPU and GPU performance.
A cluster of these are better than a cluster of Pi4B+ units, however, still no match for a set of 10nm ARM units.
But they are one of the cheapest products on the market right now!

Also a theoretical performance of 16 of these quad core boards, running at 1,4Ghz should be very close to a 3900x in terms of price and performance ($480 for the boards, vs 420 for the 3900x CPU only). A difference is the Ryzen 3900x will run at 220W, vs 16 units of these will run at 250-320W.
I'm just going to hope they'll run reliably.
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Message 99348 - Posted: 17 Jun 2020, 19:05:13 UTC - in response to Message 99347.  

Atomic Pi: Should You Bother?

No, you shouldn’t bother. You just wasted precious moments of your life reading this review. Sorry about that.

Any review, or any consideration at all of the Atomic Pi, must take into account that it will ultimately be a passing mention in a footnote of the history of single board computers. There is no future when there are no more than thirty thousand of these boards to go around. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as many impressive builds have started off by finding some discarded equipment on the side of the curb, left out for the trash. But a single board computer is ultimately defined by its ecosystem. With a baked-in production limit, there can be no community. Without a community, there is no future.

If you want a toy, sure, pick up an Atomic Pi. Here’s the link. If it’s out of stock, there’s probably going to be more. But the selling points the Atomic Pi offers — an x86 machine for cheap, with HDMI, that can run Windows — is satisfied by better machines. Take a look at the AcePC T11. This is an x86 box that uses the same chipset as the Atomic Pi, has double the amount of RAM, more eMMC, and support for a SATA drive. It only costs $130, and that gets you a power supply, more than one USB port, WiFi and Bluetooth antennas, and an enclosure. You also get a power supply. Did I mention the AcePC 11 includes a power supply?

Alternatively, if you want the same Intel chip in a pocketable form factor, the AcePC T5 plugs right into an HDMI port. It uses the same Cherry Trail CPU GPU as the Atomic Pi and comes with WiFi and Bluetooth antennas. The AcePC T5 also comes with a power supply and costs only $100.

The price reference for the single board computer market has been set by the Raspberry Pi, and that means thirty five dollars. Right now, I can buy a Pi 3 Model B+ for thirty seven dollars and seventy eight cents, with free one-day delivery from Amazon. Any competitor to the Raspberry Pi must beat it on either price or performance. The OrangePis and their ilk compete on price. The Atomic Pi certainly beats the Pi on performance and meets it on price. However, this is a false economy, as the Atomic Pi is one-off industrial surplus. If that’s your thing, and you need a cheap x86 system, go for it. But there are better options, and you will only save money by confabulating your own power supply if you value your time at zero.
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Message 99350 - Posted: 18 Jun 2020, 0:15:40 UTC
Last modified: 18 Jun 2020, 0:20:40 UTC

Thanks for the site!
I prefer critical sites, because I learn most from those.
But I can say that 95% of what he makes an issue, I can debunk.
Plus a few other issues I ran into when reading people's reviews on this board.

I still need to receive them, they're on their way.
But for the price, there's nothing out there that can match it.
Yes, you can't run an OOB Windows version on it.
For starters, it doesn't even have a case!
This makes it obvious it's something for tinkerers.
Windows doesn't fit on the 16GB SSD (and wouldn't if it had a 32GB SSD either).
That doesn't really matter to me, as I'm going to be using Ubuntu Server (no GUI).
There's really no reason to run a GUI for Boinc, especially with BoincTUI acting as boinc Manager, but in the terminal.
I understand that these boards were pulled from industrial machines. And they are made and equipped for those machines.
But it takes very little to adopt it for home use.

The first issue is a bit of an issue, but not much.
It has no DC barrel Jack.
For $5 more you can get the extra breaker board, a webcam, and some wiring.
But if you're going to be cheap, $30 cheap,
Chances are, if it had, you'd have to purchase a DC adaptor anyway, and in some cases still need to solder the correct cable to an adaptor.
So it's not a far stretch of imagination, to get rid of any plugs, and just solder a wire to the aprpopriate GPIO pins, or use a Dupont cable, and cut off the female part and solder that to a common +5V rail, while plugging in the male pin into the GPIO.
So soldering could still be an issue. I prefer to solder the wires, and not use any of the GPIO pins, for better conductivity.

The negative (ground) you can connect to a chassis, or in my 'case', the 5x M3 threaded rods.
I also purchased 3x 300W 5V PSUs, to power a total of 25 units. Simply because it's the same price as a 5V 600W PSU, and I prefer to have 2 to 3 banks of PSUs.
In theory using CPU and GPU it uses 20W (15W on a CPU stress test only); so I should have sufficient power to power up to a good 40 units.

The other issues he mentioned are:

2- SSD is too small for Windows:
I plan on using Ubuntu Server. Ubuntu server has plenty of disk space left with plenty of RAM too, without the need for a swap file.

3- The atomic pi doesn't have a USB port. Yes it does! One though, but after installation I won't need it, as I'll be working with SSH.

4- No antenna cables. For a server rack, antennas are bad in a few ways.
a- they're spreading a lot of microwaves around the area. I prefer less radiation.
b- They're cross talking, sometimes causing network delays. Instead I already own a cheap $100 24 port Netgear ethernet hub, which I connect to a single Ethernet to wifi module (ap point/wifi adapter/extender, in ap mode), which works really well! Less radiation, and internally the units resolve network collisions a lot faster too.

5- The amount of units sold. Amazon ebay seller said he had 9000 units last year. They were sold out in a matter of months. He might have had many more shipments, because last month he only had 3.
A new batch came in a few days ago, and I had no problems ordering 25 units, just because it's exactly one box, but I could order 30 units too. Saves seller packing issues, and saves me $0.38 per unit for shipping it from Amazon vs the Atomic Pi official website... The Amazon seller is from Canada, which makes shipping faster than China.

6- With active cooling the CPU is supposed to run faster than the stock 1,44 GHz just on the passive cooling. Passive cooling cools to about 60C.
20 units, is about 400Watts of heating. Even 30 would be enough if cooled by a single $25 50W box fan.

7- ubuntu 18.04 works, Ubuntu 19.xx works even better, and it is fully compatible with Ubuntu 20.04 (the version I will be installing).
All drivers work, even the audio works.

8- Audio: there's some conflicting info on audio. While someone said you need 19.04 or 19.10 to enable the audio, another person says you need to power the board with an additional 12V connector to be able to get audio out signal. I don't care, because I'm using it for Boinc only.

9- Audio out doesn't work over HDMI. Again, no issue for me.
In fact, I won't be using the HDMI at all, will be using SSH.

10- Not perfect for gaming. I'm not really into that. It emulates the older consoles well, and has issues with N64, PSP, PS3 and higher.
It does GB/GBA/GBC/NES/SNES/SEGA GG/Sega megadrive, and even older DOS and Windows games just fine.
There are better emulators on the market, however, they easily cost 3x as much. For the price, a Pi 4B doesn't really do any better job.
The only thing that could match it in performance might be those $35-55 AMLogic TV boxes.

11- Entering into bios issues.
It seems from one user, that the best way to get into bios is to use a hardware keyboard and quickly alternate between ESC and TAB, rather than try to hit the right button at the right time.
And a lot of users could enter the BIOS without any issues.

12- Bios battery issues,
Some units have used up their bios batteries, being in a warehouse for years.
I figure one can just cut open the heat shrink tubing, remove the battery, and insert a simple CR2022 battery (costs less than $1), and reapply some heat shrink tubing, or duct tape on the pins, it'll be fine.
Electrical tape tends to loosen over time.
A simple 300W heat shrink gun costs like $10-$15. A decent 350W one costs $20. It's not like you'll ever need to use it on an industrial scale, but will do for most hobby projects like this.

13- The device the guy recommends on the site you gave, is a $130 board that essentially has the same internals.
For that price I would go with an Nvidia Jetson Nano, that has superior graphics capabilities, is cheaper, and is much more supported.
And the second system (AcePC T5) he recommends, is still too high in price ($100) and has serious cooling issues!
I would not recommend any TV-stick PC for Boinc!

So I can safely say I debunked nearly all his arguments for not using this board.
While the only real issue is the power plug, looking a bit deeper, it really isn't for a hobbyist.
But if you're going to have to solder a wire to the board, or use a $5 cable, and solder the wire between the board and the PSU, it's really not that much asked for the $5 money saved.
For the money saved, you could purchase the tools!
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Message 99352 - Posted: 18 Jun 2020, 0:49:31 UTC
Last modified: 18 Jun 2020, 0:49:58 UTC

Considering that a subscription on Amazon AWS, to a 2Ghz quad core cost well over $70 a month, you might as well invest in two of these boards, and run them from home.
A lot more affordable!
That's at least 8 threads at 1,44 Ghz or faster, vs only 4 threads at 2 to 2,3Ghz on Amazon AWS.
Microsoft Azure isn't any better...
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Message 99368 - Posted: 21 Jun 2020, 4:13:22 UTC

It takes about 15 Atomic Pis to match a Ryzen 3900x in performance 😂
Then again, 15 Atomic Pis, would run at about 10 watts each, 150W total + PSU = 180W, so that's below what a ryzen system would do (220W).
Also, purchase price of 15 units is about 15 * 30 + 15 * 5 (LAN cable) + $100 lan router, + $35 PSU + $50 on hardware = $700-725, and should be considerably more reliable than a ryzen system.
My Ryzen system costs: $425 for the CPU, + $50 for air cooling or 75 for water cooling + 75 for RAM + $25 SSD + 50 PSU + 150 motherboard + 80 case = $775-800.

The only thing is it's a pain to set it up.
15 units are like 2 days of installation,not to mention making them fit in an enclosure just right.

On the pro side, each unit has a 2 Watt Intel IGP, which a 3900x doesn't have.
Once you add a GPU, the Ryzen flat out wins in performance and performance per watt.
Though the 15 boards would only use up about 20W more power at the wall (200W), and an RTX uses 125-200W of additional power,
An RTX GPU is often 10x faster (more so with the 2080Ti than with a 2060).
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Message boards : Questions and problems : Atomic pi for data crunching

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