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The SMILE project accelerates scientific and industrial applications by means of a cluster of low-cost FPGA boards. With this approach the intensive calculation tasks are accelerated using the FPGA logic, while the communication patterns of the applications remains unchanged by using a Message Passing Library over Linux. This paper explains the cluster architecture: the SMILE nodes and the developed high-speed communication network for the FPGA RocketIO interfaces. A SystemC model developed to simulate the cluster is also detailed. In order to show the potential of the SMILE proposal a Content-Based Information Retrieval parallel application has been developed and compared with a HP cluster architecture in terms of response time andpower consumption.