Pico’s FPGA based DES cracking cluster


As was bound to happen, I put the finishing touches on my GPU post and immediately ran into David Hulton (h1kari) at Pico Computing‘s ShmooCon booth. As the organizer of ToorCon, he was the person that originally introduced me to the power of the FPGA.

Pico recently hit a new high mark for decrypting 56-bit DES (PDF). DES encryption has been deprecated but can be found in old systems and uses many features found in modern encryption algorithms. They can now check all keys in just 4.65 days as opposed to 9.14 years it would take a graphics card.

The 4U machine was built with 7 of the company’s EX-300 x1 PCI Express cards. Each card has 16 Xilinx Spartan FPGAs for a total of 176 in the system. It’s quite a beast, but don’t expect to see too many since this SC-4 SuperCluster is ~$80K.

Also on display was the new E-101. It’s a single Spartan-6 LX45 FPGA. It has a mini-USB connector to make it very benchtop friendly; previous boards in this class used CF, CardBus, or ExpressCard formats.


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