Pi Baked at Home


by Tim Moran

A Japanese systems engineer used a homemade supercomputer to calculate the value of pi to 10 trillion digits -- breaking the 5-trillion-digit record he himself set, with the same setup, last August.

Shigeru Kondo, a mathematics enthusiast of the first order, has spent about $18,000 to build the device, which boasts a 48-terabyte hard drive, to perform the number crunching. The Intel-MPU-based desktop system is said to have 20 external hard disks and runs the Windows Server 2008R2 operating systems.

Having a computer of this magnitude in one's home is not without headaches. One of the main issues is heat: The temperature in the computer room would get as high as 104 degrees Fahrenheit. This was good news-bad news situation: Kondo's wife reportedly used the superheated room to dry laundry; however, the $400 a month electric bill did not play well in the household. Also, the previous record-setting attempt at 5 trillion digits was almost derailed when Kondo's daughter's hair dryer tripper a circuit breaker.

Nevertheless, the math whiz prevailed--all was saved when the computer switched to an emergency back-up power source.

Kondo was in charge of the hardware, his colleague, Alexander Yee was the software maven, and the two worked together via email. Yee wrote the program to do the actual computation: y-cruncher v0.5.4.9138 Alpha, a powerful multithreaded program/benchmark utilizing state-of-the-art algorithms.

At this point Kondo and Yee believe they have the world's record for calculating the digits of pi on a desktop system, and they plan to apply to the Guinness World Records for official recognition.

Semi-related: A software engineer makes a fully functioning replica of an ancient Greek computer out of Legos; British technologist intent on building a working version of Babbage's iconic analytical engine.