Lightning-2: A High-Performance Display Subsystem for PC Clusters

Gordon Stoll, Matthew Eldridge, Dan Patterson, Art Webb, Steven Berman, Richard Levy, Chris Caywood, Milton Taveira, Stephen Hunt, and Pat Hanrahan

Appears in Computer Graphics (SIGGRAPH 2001)


Clusters of PCs are increasingly popular as cost-effective platforms for supercomputer-class applications. Given recent performance improvements in graphics accelerators, clusters are similarly attractive for demanding graphics applications. We describe the design and implementation of Lightning-2, a display subsystem for such a cluster. The system scales in both the number of rendering nodes and the number of displays supported, and allows any pixel data generated from any node to be dynamically mapped to any location on any display. A number of image-compositing functions are supported, including color-keying and depth-compositing. A distinguishing feature of the system is its platform independence: it connects to graphics accelerators via an industry-standard digital video port and requires no modifications to accelerator hardware or device drivers. As a result, rendering clusters that utilize Lightning-2 can be upgraded across multiple generations of graphics accelerators with little effort. We demonstrate a renderer that achieves 106 Mtri/s on an 8-node cluster using Lightning-2 to perform sort-last depth compositing.


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