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Microsoft Launches Parallel Computing Virtual Labs with Visual Studio 2010 Premium

February 02, 2011

If you want to work with parallelized code that targets multicore CPUs with .NET Framework 4, you need Visual Studio 2010 installed on a computer with at least three physical cores. A dual-core CPU isn't enough to allow you to test important scalability issues. Now, you can access the Parallel Computing Virtual Labs from Internet Explorer even if you have a single-core CPU. You'll be able to use Visual Studio 2010 Ultimate in a computer with four physical cores.The Parallel Computing Virtual Labs on MSDN site requires support for ActiveX. If you want to access the Labs site, I suggest you use Internet Explorer 8 or Internet Explorer 9 Beta. You might have problems with previous Internet Explorer versions.

Microsoft made available the following five labs with different learning goals:

Each lab includes detailed step-by-step instructions to achieve certain goals. The labs allow you to try out the new parallel programming features found in .NET Framework 4 and Visual Studio 2010. However, you can also launch a lab to use Visual Studio 2010 Ultimate, on a Windows 7 Enterprise computer. You will be able to run your code on a computer with four physical cores. The computer has two physical dual-core CPUs. Each CPU has two physical cores. Thus, you can run interesting scalability tests.

When you visit the link for the desired lab, you will have to enable the execution of the Remote Desktop Services ActiveX Client. Then, a Remote Desktop Connection dialog box will appear, as in the next screenshot:

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Figure 1: The lab's site will ask you to start a remote connection.

You can allow the remote computer to access the Clipboard on your computer by activating the Clipboard checkbox. It is a good idea to enable this setting when you want to copy and paste code. Then, you must click Connect. The browser will display a Manual with the detailed objectives, the scenario and the estimated time to complete the lab.

You must right-click on the HPC-Win7 computer name on the left-hand side of the browser's window. Then, click Connect server in the context menu. Once the machine is ready, you will see the remote desktop with many shortcut icons. The detailed instructions to complete the lab will appear at the right-hand side of the browser's window. You will have to scroll down the instructions or download the PDF file to make sure that you read all the necessary steps. The following screenshots show the initial view for the remote desktop and the instruction for one of the labs.

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Figure 2: The initial view for the remote desktop. You have four physical cores running at 1.8 GHz and 2 GB RAM.

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Figure 3: The detailed instructions to parallelize an existing algorithm by using the Static Parallel Class.

You can run Windows Task Manager and the Resource Monitor. Because you are running a remote desktop, you cannot use Ctrl + Alt + Del. Just click on the Start Menu, enter taskmgr and then press Enter. The Start Menu will display a shortcut for Task Manager. Click on the shortcut and then you can click on the Resource Monitor… button. The next screenshot shows the Task Manager displaying the CPU Usage History for the four physical cores.

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Figure 4: Task Manager running on the remote desktop.

Then, it is time to follow the necessary steps to complete your lab. You just have to click on the necessary shortcuts to access the solutions and follow the steps to change your code and try out Visual Studio 2010 Ultimate with four physical cores. The next screenshot shows one of the solutions for the "Introducing .NET 4 Parallel Extensions" lab.

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Figure 5:One of the solutions provided by a lab.

When you open a solution, you will start Visual Studio 2010 Ultimate as an Administrator. Thus, you will be able to run concurrency profiling sessions. The following screenshot shows the detailed information about the Visual Studio 2010 version and the installed products.

[Click image to view at full size]
Figure 6: One of the solutions provided by a lab.

The remote desktop is a bit slow, but you have two hours to complete each lab. It takes time to make each necessary click. However, the labs allow you to try out the most exciting parallel programming features introduced in Visual Studio 2010 Ultimate and .NET Framework 4 from any computer with Internet Explorer and a decent Internet connection. You have no excuses to test the new features in four physical cores.

You can also read the blog post that announced the Virtual Labs and share your experiences with Stephen Toub.

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