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How to build a compact Raspberry Pi cluster?

The Raspberry Pi is a great platform to experiment with cluster computing or networking. But as soon as you have more than two or three boards, you need to find a way to arrange them in a practical and compact way. Not only they will take less space on your desk, but they will also look more professional and will be easier to store and transport.

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How to build a compact Raspberry Pi cluster?

Mounting hole size

In this video, I will show you several possible arrangements leveraging the board mounting holes to stack several boards using standoff. I’ve put on the video all the nuts, holes and tool size you may need to know so you won’t waste your money in buying equipment of the wrong size. Especially, you have to remember all holes on the Raspberry Pi are drilled to accommodate 2.5 mm diameter threads (M2.5). This is smaller than other boards I own that are designed with M3 (3.0 mm) screws in mind.

Where to buy?

You could buy the necessary pieces of hardware (standoffs, nuts, screw sets, kits and so on) from various places on the web. Here is a list that you can use as a starting point to compare the prices:

As of myself, I already bought without any issues from eBay, Adafruit, RS-Online, Farnell, DigiKey, and Amazon (see below). If you have previous experiences with other suppliers including those mentioned above, don’t hesitate to share your feedback on the video comment section!

Which board are compatible with that design?

I used Raspberry Pi 3 model B boards for the demonstration. But the Raspberry Pi 1 Model B+, Raspberry Pi 2 Model B (mechanical drawing identical to the Raspberry Pi 1 Model B+), Raspberry Pi 3 Model B, and Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ having the same form factor you could use any of these models in your design. You may even mix them in the same cluster.

The Raspberry Pi Zero having a smaller form factor, you can’t assemble it in the same cluster than the larger boards. But since it has four mounting holes in a rectangular pattern, you may very well stack several of them using standoffs as explained in the video.

What to do next?

Ok, you’ve assembled the Pi together. But we are far from a "real" cluster without the proper software installed. I am personally looking toward making it a swarm of Docker Engines. But other use cases worth being considered like an Hadoop Cluster or even a Beowulf Cluster for parallel computing. But those are only possible options, don’t hesitate to share your own ideas in the video comment section!

In all cases, to gain familiarity with your new device, maybe worth taking a look at my previous video to learn how to install Raspbian headless.

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