Pixel Plow-Under the Hood

Posted on April 1, 2016 in Blog \ News

Many of you have asked about our farm hardware specifications over the years, but it’s been difficult for us to answer that in a way that you can relate to today.  Our proprietary hardware infrastructure is custom-built and specially designed solely from the perspective of rendering.  All of the unnecessary parts are left out of the mix, saving us purchase costs and wasted electrical power costs.  Since the hardware is proprietary, this requires a custom operating system.  We’re happy to reveal just a few of these details today, but hope our competition won’t benefit from it too much.  Without further ado, I give you the typical Pixel Plow render node:

graphing_calculator

Casio has long been a world leader in innovative, high performance computing solutions.  We found the technological partnership with them to be an easy one to make.  With their backgrounds in media (electronic pianos), mobility (watches), and visual arts (hence the “graphique” name on the box), we knew they had the right hardware for the job.  As you can imagine, our render nodes draw a minuscule amount of power, which allows us to run them off-grid for days at a time.  Have we mentioned the overclocking capabilities yet?  We have them all cranked up to a staggering 2Mhz, meaning we only need about 14,336 of them to equal the power of a common desktop CPU.  Take that all you clock mongers.  Networking all of these bad boys is a bit tedious, but using the 300baud serial to Infiniband network adapters makes life simpler for our installation crew.  It’s just a little tough to solder that serial port to the Casio backplane.

Lastly, we come to our custom OS.  It’s important to start with an operating system that is widely used, has tremendous support for available hardware, can run our entire application suite un-modified, and has ease-of-management features.  That’s why we picked BeOS.

beos-logo-icone-4493-128

BeOS has a rich history in the media world, and since its acquisition by Palm, was ported to our Casio hardware platform (hey, Palm and Casio both made calculators).  Of course, no current render app actually runs on BeOS, so we install a custom hypervisor in it to enable us to install a Linux distro in a virtual machine.  Inside the Linux distro, we run KVM to provide an emulated environment to launch Windows 95.  This gives us the ubiquity of the Windows platform, the open source power of Linux, and the media-rich BeOS framework all in one easy-to-use package.  All of that at a performance penalty of only 87%…how could we refuse?

We hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse under the hood here at Pixel Plow.  Please don’t forget to laugh.  April Fools Day comes but once a year.

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