Parallella: A Supercomputer For Everyone (From Dreams to Reality)

Hesam Seyed Mousavi, July 27, 2013


Project Goals


Making parallel computing easy to use has been described as “a problem as hard as any that computer science has faced”. With such a big challenge ahead, we need to make sure that every programmer has access to cheap and open parallel hardware and development tools. Inspired by great hardware communities like Raspberry Pi and Arduino, we see a critical need for a truly open, high-performance computing platform that will close the knowledge gap in parallel programing. The goal of the Parallella project is to democratize access to parallel computing. If we can pull this off, who knows what kind of breakthrough applications could arise?  Maybe some of them will even change the world in some small but positive way.


Parallella: A single board computer

The Parallella computer is a high performance single board computer developed by Adapteva that includes a dual-core ARM A9 CPU, a field programmable gate array (FPGA), and Adapteva’s unique 16-core Epiphany coprocessor. The board offers USB, Ethernet, and HDMI connectivity, making it a great standalone computer. The Parallella can also be used to build massively parallel computer clusters with minimal power consumption. Complete Parallella board specifications can be found at

What will come out of it?  We don’t know but we do know that the following applications are DESPERATE for more efficient processing and are stalling today because bigger companies aren’t serving their needs.

Consumer: Small energy efficient computer media box console emulator movie rendering

Imaging: face detection/recognition, finger print matching, object tracking, stereo vision, gesture recognition, remote sensing, video-analytics, manufacturing inspection, augmented-overlay

Communication: video conferencing, network monitoring, deep packet inspection, software defined networking,

Automotive: autonomous driving, driver assist, fog penetration, glare reduction, holographic heads up display, intersection traffic monitor,

High Performance Computing: real-time internet stream analytics, real-time market analytics, portable in the field supercomputing, soft encryption engine, code breaker, data logger, in the field seismology processing

Medical: portable ultrasound, dna sequencing,

Robotics: robotics brain, space electronics, robotics sensor unit, multi sensor inertial navigation

Speech: real time speech recognition, realistic speech synthesis, real time translation, speaker verification

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles: synthetic aperture radar, hyperspectral imaging, IR imaging, smart stream compression, large focal array sensor imaging, autonomous flight,

Wireless Communication: GNU radio, cognitive radio, small cell base stations.

The Parallella Computing Platform

To make parallel computing ubiquitous, developers need access to a platform that is affordable, open, and easy to use. The goal of the Parallella project is to provide such a platform! The Parallella platform will be built on the following principles:

* Open Access: Absolutely no NDAs or special access needed! All architecture and SDK documents will be published on the web as soon as the Kickstarter project is funded.

* Open Source: The Parallella platform will be based on free open source development tools and libraries. All board design files will be provided as open source once the Parallella boards are released.
Affordability: Hardware costs and SDK costs have always been a huge barrier to entry for developers looking to develop high performance applications. Our goal is to bring the Parallella high performance computer cost below $100, making it an affordable platform for all.

The Parallella platform is based on the Epiphany multicore chips developed by Adapteva over the last 4 years and field tested since May 2011. The Epiphany chips consists of a scalable array of simple RISC processors programmable in C/C++ connected together with a fast on chip network within a single shared memory architecture.



Once completed, the 64-core version of the Parallella computer would deliver over 90 GFLOPS of performance and would have the the horse power comparable to a theoretical 45 GHz CPU [64 CPU cores * 700MHz] on a board the size of a credit card while consuming only 5 Watts under typical work loads. For certain applications, this would provide raw performance than a high end server costing thousands of dollars and consuming 400W.

What will your pledges be used for?

The following picture shows our most recent Epiphany prototype platform based on an off-the-shelf open source reference board.  The picture also highlights some of the work needed to reduce the size and cost of the platform to fit the size and cost goals of the Parallella project.

Epiphany Chip Cost Reduction Steps:

  • Chip foundry retooling changes will reduce silicon costs to a few dollars per chip.  These changes are very expensive and account for a large part of the funds needed to produce a low cost Parallella computer.  Our 16-core Epiphany chips have been in the field for over a year and have been tested thoroughly by many hardcore developers. Chip product retooling for the sake of cost reduction is usually referred to as a “full mask tapeout” and should be considered a low risk part of the project. Our current low volume chip manufacturing flow only yields 50 dies per wafer.  By creating full production mask sets for our chips we will be able to yield 1000’s of dies per wafer.
  • To reach the aggressive $99 price point we will also need to set up high volume chip testing and assembly flows.

Partners have already been lined up for both cost reduction steps discussed.

Parallella Computer Development Work:

  • All major IC components have already been selected for the Parallella board, but cost minimization will continue.
  • We will be engaging with an experienced external board product design team to complete the design and layout of the Parallella boards.
  • We will work with internal and external resources to seamlessly integrate the Epiphany coprocessor drivers and development tools with the Ubuntu distribution currently running on the reference platform.


  • Buying in bulk significantly reduces the cost of the platform.  Without the  large batch build enabled by this project, the cost of the Parallella boards would be many times higher.

Except for the Epiphany multiprocessor chips, the Parallella computer is a  fairly standard ARM based low cost single board computer, giving us confidence that we will be able to meet our size and cost constraints.

Risks and challenges

The Parallella carries risks like any major engineering project. Any design flaw can set product releases back months and part shortages can push out delivery times significantly. We know as well as anyone that it only takes a single bug to make a product unusable.

The Adapteva team has a lot of experience in delivering complicated projects on time within specifications and our development risk is reduced by having long standing relationships in place with first rate suppliers and manufacturers.

We are very confident that we can deliver what have proposed! Still, we want to make it clear that we can’t guarantee that we will be able to deliver. If you do make a pledge to the Parallella project you are doing it knowing that there is a risk that something will go wrong. The one thing we can guarantee is that we will put our heart and soul into this project (like we did for 4 years when we built the Epiphany processor chips) and that we will be honest and transparent about our progress throughout the Parallella project.




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