The Great Beast is here!

The good folks from TekSyndicate showed up yesterday with a pile of parts and did final assembly of the Beast in my dining room. A&D regular John Bell remoted in last night to finish the setup. I’m actually blogging on it now as the last of my work environment transfers over from the old snark.

What a beautiful machine it is! The interior of the NZXT case is even more impressive live than it is in photos. It runs whisper-quiet.

During the next several hours we’ll be filming documentary and interview footage. I’ll announce here when and where the video is available.

UPDATE: I have now had a chance to profile performance on some of the benchmark repos. I’m seeing speedups of between a factor of three (on Emacs CVS) and twenty (on groff CVS). The entire NetBSD src repository, 288K commits and 37GB of content, converts in 22 minutes.

76 thoughts on “The Great Beast is here!

  1. Congratulations, man, and happy hacking! :D

    You might want to remove the link to “Build options for the Great Beast”. Or maybe not; it’s got historical value, I suppose.

    Anyway, to celebrate the arrival of The Great Beast/To Mega Therion, and as a (late) birthday present, here’s an exceptional picture of To Mega Theron.

  2. >So did they actually involve you in assembling the box?

    Not really. They had a procedure laid out; I grokked that the most productive thing I could do was stand aside and make admiring noises.

  3. It really is an impressive box even if one doesn’t know anything about computers…it’s nearly three times the size of Eric’s old desktop machine, and has space for at least 6 additional hard drives inside.

  4. If the old machine was named “snark”, is this one going to be called “boojum”?

  5. > You might want to remove the link to “Build options for the Great Beast”. Or maybe not; it’s got historical value, I suppose.

    Or change it into ordinary blog post (perhaps adding “The Great Beast build” either as blog post, or in the header).

    Are there any tasks for the Great Beast?

  6. I have to ask, purely for my own entertainment: what were the TekSyndicate folks like? Did they recognize you? What did they think of the whole idea of building a new box for a widely-known open source advocate?

  7. @dtsund –

    For continuity purposes, the Great Beast has the hostname “snark”; the old system (at my insistence) was renamed to ” bitty-box”.

    :-D

  8. Congrats on a successful beast build! Speaking of beasties, here’s hoping the NetBSD guys give you the green light to turn that bad boy loose on git-ifying their code base. I, for one, would support such a change.

  9. >I have to ask, purely for my own entertainment: what were the TekSyndicate folks like? Did they recognize you? What did they think of the whole idea of building a new box for a widely-known open source advocate?

    That’s exactly what they wanted to do – a good turn for ESR with some fun video as a useful side effect.

    They were a lot of fun to work with. Smart, funny, and through them I got a look at a couple of geek subcultures I don’t normally have much contact with.

  10. That does raise a question. Will you update the build post with the actual system as built?

  11. Thanks for having us! We had a great time, hope you did also.
    Final build partslist:

    Enermax ECA3222 Tool-less 3.5/2.5 hotswap adapter w/front usb3 ports (in his second nzxt 5.25 bay)
    ASUS DVD/Multi/Something/Whatever burner/cdrom/dvdrom/ (in the first 5.25 bay)
    Intel Xeon E5-1650 v3 Six-Core Processor
    512GB M.2 Plextor PCIe Internal Solid State Drive
    Noctua NDH-15 (IIRC) Premium low-noise CPU Cooler
    32GB Kit (8GBx4) DDR4 2133 ECC/REG (Crucial CT4K8G4RFS4213 )
    HGST Deskstar NAS/Nearline 3TB 7200RPM SATA III 64MB Cache Internal Hard Drive
    Asus X99-E WS LGA 2011-v3 Motherboard
    NZXT 1000W HALE90 Power Supply (Silent, when under loaded)
    Some other miscelany including upgrading other fans to noctua for more quietness.
    AMD 7950 GPU

    JDB did the super customized OS load over IPMI, which worked out great. Literally bootstrapping the machine from nothing and no os to a running machine.
    Thanks very much JDB!

  12. Yeah, that looks like a pretty gonzo box. That should hold Eric for a year or two. :-)

  13. Hi Mr. Maynard! I sure hope so. Part of what we are hoping for is to show everyone how much can be done with relatively little in the way of hardware (re: what is now bitty-box). Unrelated question — Do you have any interests in side contracts/commercial projects involving cobol and mainframe stuff? If so email me. :)

  14. I don’t speak COBOL, and my mainframe skills are pretty rusty. With that said, if it’s something I can handle, I’m interested.

    I’m also flattered that you thought of me in that context. Once upon a time, I’d hoped to become famous in the hacker world for Hercules…but my life took rather a different path.

  15. ESR> The Great Beast is here!

    Happy CVS-hunting! Looking forward to watching the documentary.

  16. >ESR, what does your employer, Zola, think of the Beast?

    Zola improved the weekend. He hasn’t expressed an opinion about the Beast, but he was friendly, curious, and nice to the guys from TekSyndicate. He poked his nose into things enough to be cute but not enough to be annoying. There’ll be some Zola in the video, if only because Albert the camera guy particularly liked him.

    Cathy and I wish there were some way to convey “You did good!” to a cat. He really did. The weekend banished the last of our rapidly-diminishing doubts that Zola will be reliably guest-friendly, a trait we consider important in our cats. Like Sugar (and like Maine Coons in general) he responds generously to human attempts to make nice at him.

  17. >Just curious… Why couldnt esr install the OS himself?

    I could have. But jdb is a pro sysadmin who knows things I don’t, like LVM setup. By doing the routine stuff he freed me to concentrate on what I didn’t already know, like learning etckeeper.

  18. Terry,

    That’s more or less the connotation the name of the thing brings up in my mind as well.

    Fortunately enough, the most sensible serial number for a homebuilt computer, which is generally a one-of-a-kind build, is “1”.

    Eric,

    The title you used for this thread is generally reserved for “welcoming” new presidents/popes/UN secretary generals into office. Seeing it outside of that context creates a fair bit of cognitive dissonance.

  19. >Thanks for having us! We had a great time, hope you did also.

    Oh hell yes. Some of the weekend was pretty hard work – I did a lot of prep stuff and cleanup you guys didn’t see to make things run smoothly, especially Sunday morning before you showed up for round 2 – but most of it was huge fun. The Beast was as awesome and beautiful as I expected, the interview segments flowed pretty well, Chinese dinner at Margaret Kuo’s was a good time, and I am genuinely impressed that three raw newbs competed as well at Ticket To Ride: Europe as you guys did.

    We should find some more stuff to do together. The good barbecue place is still unvisited; Logan said he wanted more crunchiness in the next game and I would be happy to teach you guys Power Grid or something heavier.

  20. Cathy and I wish there were some way to convey “You did good!” to a cat.

    Extra pettings, scratchings, lap time, and perhaps a treat.

    He’ll get the message, I’m sure.

  21. >Liking those conversion times :)

    Yeah, no shit! And that’s with the CVS repos on spinning rust. If I put them on SSD I have no doubt whatsoever we’d get another factor of two drop, minimum.

    Oh, and take a bow, Laurence. You’ve done more and better work than anyone else – including me – on speed-optimizing the code. Which lets me focus on the correctness issues.

  22. That’s what you get when you characterize your workload to within a gnat’s ass.

    What kind of speedup does that NetBSD time represent?

  23. That’s what, nearly a factor of 20 faster over pre-Beast timing? Did Zola’s employee do a happy dance?

    OT: ESR, thanks for your help re: my first foundering steps into refactoring. Aha moments are becoming more frequent now, and I’m even able to fix a couple of them directly without whole-motza-of-baby-steps.

  24. >That’s what you get when you characterize your workload to within a gnat’s ass.

    Yes, the design choices (optimize for RAM cache size, and lowest RAM latency, and single-processor speed) seem to have truly paid off. I heart whole-systems engineering!

    >What kind of speedup does that NetBSD time represent?

    I couldn’t get it to complete at all on the old snark – insufficient RAM. But if I recall the figures from Laurence’s last runs correctly it’s between a factor 2 and 3 speedup from his hardware, which is consistent with what I’m seeing on large-but-not-absurdly-huge repositories like Emacs CVS.

  25. >That’s what, nearly a factor of 20 faster over pre-Beast timing?

    I am seeing a factor of 20 or better on small- and medium-sized test loads, yes. The win ratio drops off on extremely large repositories, but this was expected; I know that unavoidable O(n**2) operations in some of the merge phases start to really kick you in the ass at that level.

    >Aha moments are becoming more frequent now, and I’m even able to fix a couple of them directly without whole-motza-of-baby-steps.

    This is, again, a completely normal learning progression.

  26. @wendell –

    > Final build partslist:

    Since I was a co-conspirator in this, I’ll mention that Wendell left an important item off this BoM: We created a little “Roll of Honor” certificate listing everyone who had made a contribution to the Great Beast of Malvern. It was tucked into the case, and Eric discovered it when they went to install his video card.

    Thank you, everyone for your generosity!

    > JDB did the super customized OS load over IPMI, which worked out great. Literally
    > bootstrapping the machine from nothing and no os to a running machine.

    Thanks, but, um … I thought there were i s s u e s…. some of which I talk about over here. Thank you, Wendell, for all your help in getting me access to the box, and being my “hands-on” assistant.

    @esr –

    > >Just curious… Why couldnt esr install the OS himself?

    > I could have. But jdb is a pro sysadmin who knows things I don’t, like LVM setup. By doing
    > the routine stuff he freed me to concentrate on what I didn’t already know, like learning
    > etckeeper.

    And also, since I was the one that kicked the hornet’s nest over two months ago, I wanted to make sure Eric didn’t get stung by any of the results. If I started it, it was up to me to (help) finish it.

    > >Thanks for having us! We had a great time, hope you did also.

    > Oh hell yes. … We should find some more stuff to do together.

    Damn. Now I’m even more sorry that I wasn’t able to make the trip to Malvern. OTOH, there’s always Penguicon 2015.

  27. Just tried a rust to rust run of nsetbsd-src. 44 minutes, so yes a factor of 2 :)

  28. >We created a little “Roll of Honor” certificate listing everyone who had made a contribution to the Great Beast of Malvern. It was tucked into the case, and Eric discovered it when they went to install his video card.

    Indeed. I may have to have it framed.

  29. >OTOH, there’s always Penguicon 2015.

    I think I have the TekSyndicate crew almost persuaded to go to that.

  30. “I think I have the TekSyndicate crew almost persuaded to go to that.”

    Can I help?

  31. >Thank you, everyone for your generosity!

    Yes, thank you everyone. The volume of contributions turned out to be well matched to the goal; we ended up with about $300 left over and couldn’t have spent a lot more efficiently. The extra $300 will be spent in some worthy and associated way; right now the most plausible candidate is setting up a proper multi-monitor rig on the Great Beast.

    Yes, I had one of those months ago on the old snark. Both Aurias crapped out, except Wendell thinks it was actually the power supplies that were bad. (I had had a similar suspicion myself.) We may be able to fix that with third-party power supplies that aren’t constructed from spit, baling wire, and chewing gum.

  32. @esr –

    > The extra $300 will be spent in some worthy and associated way

    ISTR that one of the contributors asked that his donation would be used in part “for a nice dinner for Cathy“.

    For what she has to put up with, that would be “worthy and associated”.

    ;-}

  33. >For what she has to put up with, that would be “worthy and associated”.

    In general that may well be true. But this particular geek adventure didn’t seem to cost her any tsuris at all – she liked the guys from TekSyndicate and helped me teach them Ticket To Ride: Europe.

    A thing about Cathy: she actually enjoys the aura of geeks at work – she’s said so and her behavior backs it up. As long as we don’t destroy anything and clean up our messes afterwards, she’s perfectly happy with monster PCs being assembled on the dining-room table. While she doesn’t necessarily understand everything that’s going on, she likes being around people who expend intelligence and concentration and craft to build things.

  34. >He poked his nose into things enough to be cute…

    I, too, love it when pets do that. You might enjoy this video, especially at this particular instant.

    >While she doesn’t necessarily understand everything that’s going on, she likes being around people who expend intelligence and concentration and craft to build things.

    That’s similar to what I experience when I see my father code or tinker with hardware.

  35. While she doesn’t necessarily understand everything that’s going on, she likes being around people who expend intelligence and concentration and craft to build things.

    Anyone with intelligence enjoys the sight of another intelligence at work. I’d say that you have quite a catch, but you already knew that.

  36. right now the most plausible candidate is setting up a proper multi-monitor rig on the Great Beast

    Add in $300 of your own and get two of those 27″ IPS monsters from Monoprice? (2560×1440, per each.)

  37. >Add in $300 of your own and get two of those 27? IPS monsters from Monoprice? (2560×1440, per each.)

    That’s scenario #2, all right. Scenario #1 is I get a couple of replacement power supplies for the 27″ Atrias for much less, and they work.

  38. One more thing: you probably should update your hardware page to account for this new beast. And while you’re at it, please correct this: “with occasional trips to Xfce for special purpises” (emphasis added).

  39. @JDB:

    >Thanks, but, um … I thought there were i s s u e s…. some of which I talk about over here. Thank you, Wendell, for all your help in getting me access to the box, and being my “hands-on” assistant.

    In the post on your blog you talk about a 600 line apt-get script that you had to hand-edit.

    Why not just use Synaptic’s “Save Markings” and “Read Markings” features with the “full state” checkbox checked? It’s not a cureall, but it’s massively helpful.

  40. I very recently moved from two monitors to three. It wasn’t the earthshaking wowser that going from one to two was, but it provided a useful increase in sprawl space.

    The first dual setup I built involved separate ISA and PCI video cards and most of a day of hand-editing XF86Config and setting refresh rates, etc. Things have gotten better since then, but not like Windows, where that kind of thing mostly “just works.”

    Last month’s upgrade was another monitor and a GeForce GT640-2GD3, which is an older NVidia card that cost less than $100. I popped in the new card and hooked up the new monitor. I did the OS upgrade at the same time, replacing my old Fedora 19 with a fresh openSUSE 13.2. And…

    Dang. {swaps two monitor cables] KDE comes up, spreads across six feet of desktop, and… is it really Linux when you don’t have to hand-edit obscure and underdocumented Xorg configuration files?

    The card has two DVI ports, a VGA port, and an HDMI port. I don’t have an HDMI monitor, but I’m tempted to borrow one and see if the card will run four at the same time.

  41. Things have gotten better since then, but not like Windows, where that kind of thing mostly “just works.”

    *shrug* I use KDE, and over my last three laptops I’ve never had issues with hooking up external monitors, except for when I had to step down 1600p over HDMI because the cable was under spec and couldn’t handle 60Hz, and I doubt Windows would have done better.

    On the other hand, when I decided that I wanted a simple way to rearrange my laptop and/or external monitors, and to speed up my mouse cursor when the big external is connected, xrandr and xinput got me done in a few lines of shell, triggered by a KDE global keybinding.

    Interestingly, all of the computers that had problems with the projectors at this year’s SpringOne2GX were running OS X.

  42. @Jon Brase

    > Why not just use Synaptic’s “Save Markings” and “Read Markings” features with the
    > “full state” checkbox checked? It’s not a cureall, but it’s massively helpful.

    Well, er, ah, … because I didn’t know about it at the time. Thank you for the information; I’m looking into it right now for future tasks like this.

    To amplify my silly little story, I didn’t have any access to Eric’s old box before the conversion. I pointed him at this script to run, and he emailed me the results. That’s how I got the list of apps he had loaded, and from which I created that hideous “apt-get” script.

    I’ve done hands-off remote builds of Linux boxes before (in RH/Fedora/CentOS) using the kickstart tools, but never for a Debian-derived system. So my approach was probably a bit naive.

  43. Since you were doing things with JDB remotely, did you engage anyone with ‘real’ networking/firewall skills to assist?

  44. >Since you were doing things with JDB remotely, did you engage anyone with ‘real’ networking/firewall skills to assist?

    Not yet, but HedgeMage plans a serious security audit.

  45. >btw, your ipv6 does not appear to have survived the transition.

    Not entirely surprised to hear it. Well, you’re welcome to come fix it. Our Power Grid set misses you, too. :-)

  46. esr, have you considered scripting your box setup to make things a little easier the next time you migrate (or reinstall in the case of drive failure)?

    I keep a collection of setup scripts and config files in GitHub for Linux Mint (my old OS-of-choice) and now FreeBSD given that I’m moving off GNU/Linux. Anything sensitive is encrypted, of course, and in a private repo to be installed separately to the public ‘base system’.

    It makes things super-easy whenever I get a new machine, too (a common occurence when contracting) … in a matter of an hour or two (Internet speeds are slow here in Australia) of largely unattended installation I can have my familiar dev environment all set up.

  47. Can “It” play Crysis at full settings?

    Sorry. Had to represent for the renegade n00bs out here.

    >> Both Aurias crapped out, except Wendell thinks it was actually the power supplies that were bad. (I had had a similar suspicion myself.)
    >> We may be able to fix that with third-party power supplies that aren’t constructed from spit, baling wire, and chewing gum.

    Capacitor kits, Babayyy!

    http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss/185-5625795-1422510?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=Auria+capacitor+kit

    After witnessing the horror of backlit LEDs after my (most beloved) 1440×900 flouescent LCD went dark, I hastily returned the former and quickly amended the latter!

  48. >esr, have you considered scripting your box setup to make things a little easier the next time you migrate (or reinstall in the case of drive failure)?

    I used to have a rebuild script for snark. It kept breaking in trivial ways, so now I have a build checklist and a directory full of config-file masters. The effect isn’t much different.

  49. >Capacitor kits, Babayyy!

    We did not know those existed. Alas, the hasty rebuild effort left the PSUs in a state beyond my capacity to reassemble, and Wendell says they’re complete pieces of crap. I’ll spring for new PSUs.

  50. @ Duncan Bayne:

    > esr, have you considered scripting your box setup to make things a little easier
    > the next time you migrate (or reinstall in the case of drive failure)?

    Yes, this is exactly what I would like to do. I started to read the “debconf” man pages, and this material here, but didn’t get through it all before I had to do the install.

    Please email me and we can discuss: j d b (at) s y s t e m s a r t i s a n s (dot) c o m

  51. >> I’ll spring for new PSUs.

    I don’t fully recall, but I think my new capacitors were touting their superiority over the stock stuff. Stock lasted 7-1/2 years. We’ll see how these go. Either way, I’m toying with “splurging” for a backup set in case I need to ride that OLED depreciation curve a little bit further.

  52. When will the interviews and videos be up? I’d love to see the actual assembly. Heck I’d love to see a picture of The Great Beast in the mean time. :)

    Please update us on the slaying of CVS.

    Those are my wishes as a contributor.

  53. >When will the interviews and videos be up? I’d love to see the actual assembly. Heck I’d love to see a picture of The Great Beast in the mean time. :)

    From the way Wendell and Logan talked about it, the video will probably issue shortly after New Year’s – I think sometime between 1 and 15 Jan is a good bet.

    The Beast doesn’t look that interesting from the outside – it’s an almost featureless black slab. If I have time before the video issues I’ll do a photo spread on the interior, which is pretty neat.

    Update on the slaying of CVS is worth a blog post. To issue shortly.

  54. The Beast doesn’t look that interesting from the outside – it’s an almost featureless black slab.

    So was the Monolith. So, for that matter, were the awesome AIs from Interstellar.

  55. I am considering cloning the great beast for my purposes. However much of my main workload (whole operating system compiles) is intensely parallizable (I use a older 6 core box and a half dozen machines in the cloud for this), so I was mostly looking at stepping up to 12 or more cores for it… but I may not. I am curious as to the specs @teksyndicate has for their higher end box, and whether I could try an openwrt build on it. Presently with what I have it takes about 28 minutes to complete a build…

    @esr I DID find a reason for upgrading from my current i3 based nucs to maybe something beast-class rather than uber-beast-class. It turns out emacs´s eww is remarkably usable for at least some browsing. It is a tad slower than a dedicated browser on simple sites like lwn.net but does format stuff pretty well. I am curious as to how fast and usable it is on the great beast?

  56. @teksyndicate: bad choice of words there. buying, not cloning. I do not have the time nor eyesight to bother building a big box anymore… hand delivery not required, however!

  57. > I am curious as to how fast and usable it is on the great beast?

    Dunno yet; my eww is barfing because Emacs doesn’t have xml2 linked. I’ll get back to to you once I fix that.

  58. @ Dave Taht
    >apt-get build-dep emacs24 # is the answer to many problems

    Just to be sure: Emacs 24.4 has no additional dependencies with respect to Emacs 24.3, right?

  59. >apt-get build-dep emacs24 # is the answer to many problems

    I wish it were.

    apt-get build-dep emacs24 followed by autogen.sh followed by configure –with-xml2 gets me exactly nowhere. The configure script claims that the code links -lxml2, but invoking eww throws the same error that libxml2 is not linked. I’m out of things to try.

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