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Boot a CD and Make Your X-Box Join the Cluster 111

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the cheap-distributed-computing dept.
jaromil writes "Last week at the Linux Expo UK in London the dyne:bolic distribution was shown to boot on a XBOX console automatically joining a cluster of other PCs on the fly, there is also an article on ZDNet UK covering the story." The article also discusses some of the issues with getting unsigned code to run on the X-Box.
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Boot a CD and Make Your X-Box Join the Cluster

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  • Why is this listed under the interviews category?
  • it surely is a good clustor node candidate. makes less noice, not to much heat, does not take much space, and for its price quite fast. i am just wondering about the network card speed, how is that performing?
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Well, the network connection in the xbox is a 10/100 that can do full duplex, and I have gotten about 10MB/sec transfer when FTPing files to it, sometimes less but I'm thinking it is more the hard drive than the network. (Network being Computer Switch Xbox)
      • It could also be whatever LAN equipment you are using. For example, if you are using a 10/100 hub, the bandwidth is being distributed between ALL the active ports (so the fuller the hub, the slower the connection).

        Using a switch would provide more bandwidth, since the switch filters for destination by mac address (rather than blindly repeating all traffic), but switches are more expensive than hubs.

        All in all, however, if you are getting a sustained 10mbps at full duplex, you are doing really well. Most e

      • Must be your equipment, Sending files through my PC -> Dlink router -> Cisco hub -> Xbox I transfer average around 4000 - 4800K, and I receive at a little faster.
  • They haven't come out with any good games for the xbox lately, here's something useful to do with it. I wouldn't mind a cluster of xboxes :) If only microsoft would cooperate a little more with it, we'll get around their digital signatures, its only a matter of time.
    • Re:perfect timing (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Dragoon (10644)
      Not to sound rude, but If only microsoft would cooperate a little more with it

      If they co-operate, people start buying xbox's (yay). The money isn't in selling the consoles, theyre already selling them at a loss. The money is in selling the games.

      MS is -very- money motivated, selling their systems at a loss to make it back with the lucrative game sales, good idea.

      Selling consoles that people can run linux on (their competition) without ever buying real xbox games? bad idea.

      The xbox might have standard
      • You're completely correct in your assessment of the situation. The only point I want to add that if this were the X-Box 2, then it would be in Microsoft's best interests to not interfere with this type of development, much. Certainly they need to keep people from pirating games but if people are buying X-Boxes and putting Linux on them, Microsoft isn't getting game sales BUT in the early days of any console, the sales numbers of the console are very important. Perceived market success by the consumer, drive
    • 1. what does MS have to gain by cooperating? I just dont see that happening, or even understand why it is expected.

      2. What exactly is to be learned from this? Wouldnt they be better off working with something else, like building a unix or linux cluster? I really dont know, Im just wondering on his one.

    • no new good games? what's Knights of the Old Repbulic?
  • That picture just re-affirms the fact... if geeks can't get laid, how will the reproduce? Are geeks dying off? What's going to happen?
  • In all fairness (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Cooper_007 (688308)
    They didn't exactly plug in a CD and the thing suddenly became the new home of our trusty penguin. They either "chipped" (modded for us old people) the thing first, or exploited a bug in one of the games to get the install going.

    Now, unless I'm mistaken, this has been possible for quite some time now. The only new part is that they're using it for a cluster, and commercial companies are considering doing the same. Of course, the article points out that this too has already been done with Sony PS2s.

    The onl

    • you have to mod the xbox in order to do anything interesting. you can either bridge connections with solder in 2 places to make the bios writable, or use a mod chip to circumvent the factory bios. either way, you have to void your warranty and crack the case.

      though I do agree that the only thing new is that we have a horrible picture to make fun of and a new story to run beowulf cluster jokes on.

      • Actually, it is possible to mod the XBox without opening it up. The game bug referred to in your parent poster does not require the XBox to be opened. You merely have to transfer a gamesave to the XBox and use it from within the game. Files are installed on the hard disk that allow the hack to run.
        • I may be out of the loop, but I was under the impression that you still had to solder the contacts to make the BIOS writable. I used the 007 gamesave hack to flash my BIOS after doing so. I'm not thoroughly immersed in the xbox hacking scene, but I haven't seen any method that allows you to rewrite or bypass the BIOS without using a modchip or playing with solder.
          • The hack does not write anything to the BIOS chip, but instead uses a buffer overflow in the font handling code to run a hacked BIOS file loaded onto the HDD. The XBox Linux Project [sourceforge.net] has loads of information on this, and other technical information on the XBox (and yes, I did put in the information for my XBox).
            This [netsys.com] is a more thorough discussion of the specific hack that I was talking about.
  • These things might be looking a bit slow now, but where else can you get a 100 node cluster with 6.4GB of ram and 1TB of disk for just £10k? That's practically in the home computing market.

    Not only that but once you get it up and running you will get a certain mention on the /. front page!
  • by Shaklee39 (694496)
    Hi Mr. Box, I was wondering how you felt about being linked to others just like yourself in an attempt to create a distributed network? I also wanted to know what plans you had for the future?
  • by Carbon Unit 549 (325547) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @08:06AM (#7207754) Homepage
    As a builder of clusters, I can tell you that we are always looking for more bang for the buck. The xbox is cpu is at least 5 times slower than a Pentium 4 3 GHz cpu. Thus, it needs to be at least five times cheaper (including extra network and power comsumption overhead). A shuttle box with 1 GB Ram and GHz cpu goes for about $750. So at best, the xbox is barely breaking even at $150 per node. When you add chipping costs, network switches, power consumption, floor space and parallel efficiency, the xbox loses.

    The playstation efforts, are to program the vector units, not just use the general cpu. Even with that it is not worth it now, but it is hoped that the experience gained with ps2 might translate to a quicker porting to ps3.
    • Ah, but the price of screwing over the man? Priceless. SCREW OVER THE MAN!

      /spastic
    • hmm, interesting point.

      I wonder how do you consider various PPC hardware then? In terms of price per performance specifically in a cluster environment?

    • That's true, but if you start buying hundreds of XBoxen for creating a big cluster, you hurt MS economies because they loose money on every box sold.

      That's one way to crush MS into the ground... :)
      • And besides that if you were to mount them all on a wall it'd be way cool to look at.

        X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
        X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
        X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
        X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
        X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
        X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
        X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
        X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
        X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
        X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
      • Sure, it costs them some when you buy it, although that amount is dropping the more that are sold.

        What Microsoft gains out of it though is the ability to walk into a game shop, and tell them to build exclusivly for the xbox, because they know that there are exactly $Xboxes out there that can run their game.

        In the console market, that is a powerful thing. You can't get an exclusive game, without a good promise on returns, and you dont' get that without a large market segment.
        • > What Microsoft gains out of it though is the ability to walk into a game shop, and tell them to build exclusivly for the xbox, because they know that there are exactly $Xboxes out there that can run their game.

          Which would make it cool if the game shop could say "but lots of those boxes have been hacked to sit in Linux clusters by people who couldn't care less about our game, the real number is smaller". In reality the numbers that aren't used for gaming are probably negligable, but when has that matte
    • Are you forgetting about the very-powerful NVidia GPU in the XBox?

      If you've got a task that uses math that the GPU is good at, there is little these days that can touch it in cost/performance for a cluster.
    • The xbox is cpu is at least 5 times slower than a Pentium 4 3 GHz cpu. Thus, it needs to be at least five times cheaper
      This is borderline meaningless. Do you mean "The Xbox's CPU is at best one fifth the speed of a Pentium 4 3 GHz CPU. Thus, it needs to cost no more than one fifth of the price of a Pentium 4 3 GHZ CPU."
  • Furthermore, he said, there are attempts by the hacker community to produce its own CD containing the software bug. The only catch is that the CD would have to be digitally signed, or authorised, by Microsoft. "There are people trying to get a buggy CD signed by Microsoft using social engineering techniques," added Jaromil.

    In other news, Microsoft has released an internal memo to the Xbox division, reminding users about the possibility of social engineering attempts.

  • Now with added... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Salsaman (141471) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @08:10AM (#7207779) Homepage
    I am working with Jaromil on the dyne:bolic CD. The latest bootable CD also contains the LiVES video editing system [xs4all.nl]. With this CD it will be possible to grab frames from a camera, edit and splice the clips, VJ with them, then encode them to any format and burn them on to CD ROM.
    • What hardware is used to grab video? Will it use one of those USB capture devices? I thought these were of rather crappy quality. The only thing your link specifies is: "Real-time capture/recording of external windows."
      • OK, you are confusing two things here.

        One is grabbing of external windows on the desktop (e.g. an xmms plugin) and recording the frames, which is what I mean on the website.

        The other is importing video from a camera. For this you need an external program (I use dvgrab to actually download the video and convert it to avi format which LiVES can load). Then you can just load the clips in and edit them. You can pass parameters to dvgrab to tell it what device to use, by default it is the first firewire device (

  • Comparions... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Realistic_Dragon (655151) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @08:14AM (#7207808) Homepage
    VT cluster, $5.2M.

    1100*2*2Gig=4.4 million PMU (Pointless measuring units)
    1100*4G=4.4TB ram
    1100*160G=176TB disk

    Xbox cluster, $5.2M

    52000*733=38.1 million PMU
    52000*64M=3.3TB ram
    52000*10G=520TB disk

    Looks like the XBox wins to me, assuming you would figure out a way of jamming an infiniband network card in there, but then Google manages just fine with 100mbit*.

    Of course you would get a big scream out of Redmond either way - buying Apple or buying the XBox, and it might be a tad difficult to get them to take you seriously when you ring up to order 52,000 XBoxes...

    *100mbit to the rack switches.
    • Re:Comparions... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by hattig (47930)
      VT:

      1100 x ~300W = 330kW
      1 year running 24/7 at 5c/unit: $141,000

      XBox: 52000 x ~100W = 5200kW
      1 year running 24/7 at 5c/unit: $2,300,000
    • Don't forget all the mod chips which have to be hand inserted, plus the other stuff you'll end up having to do, the rackmounts (can get a rack cased PC prebuilt but not an XBox rackmount), etc etc
  • "There are people trying to get a buggy CD signed by Microsoft using social engineering techniques," added Jaromil.

    Okay, who did they get to sleep with Bill?

  • On the one hand you hear people rightly bashing Microsoft, but on the other people credulously believe that M$ loses money on every XBox therefore we should all buy some. Yeah, right, and you want to lick Steve Ballmer's shoes with that ?
    • Apparently Sony lost money on the original PlayStation console, but made it back in royalties on the games (this is good marketing as it gets everyone to own a console and therefore to have a thirst for games). Perhaps M$ is using the same trick.
  • I didn't realize Mario and Luigi were coming to the XBOX ... and who's the guy on the right?
  • In Soviet AI research, XBOX cluster imagines YOU!
  • Here [fotopic.net] and here [fotopic.net]... hmm... maybe it's time we started collecting money to hire a spokeswoman or something.

    Hey, it's just an idea. :)

  • Semantics... (Score:1, Offtopic)

    by Schnapple (262314)
    Please get it right.

    It's Xbox. Not X-Box.

    (you insensitive clod)

  • Before you ask... (Score:2, Informative)

    by toothfish (596936)
    There is a torrent [dyne.org] for the dyne:bolic distribution.

    Don't know about Ogg.
  • There are people trying to get a buggy CD signed by Microsoft

    Unfortunatly this has nothing to do with the xbox as most of the people in question are actually M$ Software designers working on future versions of Windows , IE and Outlook

  • Imagine a... (Score:1, Redundant)

    by FsG (648587)
    Beowulf cluster of these..oh, wait, yeah!
  • jaromil writes "Last week at the Linux Expo UK in London the dyne:bolic distribution was shown to boot on a XBOX console automatically joining a cluster of other PCs on the fly, there is also an article on ZDNet UK covering the story." The article also discusses some of the issues with getting unsigned code to run on the X-Box.

    First: It was not shown to boot on an XBOX console. It was shown to boot on a hacked Xbox (Note correct capitalization) console. This is important information and should have been included in the story submission.

    Second: The ZDNet UK article claims that clustering Linux on Xbox requires using OpenMosix. This is untrue. You could use Mosix! Or, you could use one of the other clustering packages available. Beowulf clusters come to mind... At least the ZDNet article points out that it's a hacked Xbox, however.

    While knowing it is hacked would seem to be simply an assumption for any /. reader, who is assumed to know that Xboxes are hackable, and must be hacked to use them for this purpose, there is the possibility for a buffer overflow bug in the DVD-ROM accessing code, and so we need to know how the boot was carried out. Indeed, on a site known for its technical discussions, this piece of technical information not being included is so grievous an error as to be ridiculous.

    You could sum this whole comment up, unfortunately, as "thanks, taco!"

    • I read the article because I hoped some clever people had found a way to hack the xbox with a custom cd.

      What is the news in connecting a machine which is essentially a low spec pc (the xbox) to a cluster?
    • dyne:bolic has a bootloader signed by the xbox-linux project, which means you can use bugs as the one in mechassault game to boot linux on a UNCHIPPED xbox.

      regarding the cluster issue you raise: we only tried to make it work with a pure OpenMosix cluster, I can't assure it works with any other cluster.

      anyway the ZDNet article mentions the chipping need and reports my declaration about napolitans thru the world, if that's enough for you.

      i love zealots
      • dyne:bolic has a bootloader signed by the xbox-linux project, which means you can use bugs as the one in mechassault game to boot linux on a UNCHIPPED xbox.

        That's cool and all - it's the proper way to do things given current limitations - but unchipped is irrelevant because you still need to either use a memory card with a PC interface (such as mega-x-key) or the swap trick to get the files on there. Some sort of hardware hacking tool continues to be required, and this is worth mentioning in the story

  • It's always fun seeing new (to me anyway) software for the first time.
    interface and several apps [dynebolic.org]
    muse [dyne.org]
    freej [dyne.org]
  • Shouldn't a cluster of Xboxes be referred to as a "collective?"

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