US Air Force builds supercomputer using PlayStation 3s

A US Air Force research team has built a supercomputer using just over 2,000 PlayStation 3 game consoles, according to military news site Stars and Stripes. Dubbed the 500 TeraFLOPS Heterogeneous Cluster it is almost 100,000 times faster than existing high-end processors.

Using off-the-shelf components, including the metal shelves containing the cluster, and running Linux, the system will be used for purposes such as high definition video image processing and Neuromorphic computing, which mimics the human nervous system.

Dr. Richard Linderman, the senior scientist for Advanced Computing Architectures, said that the main reason for choosing the console for their supercomputer was it's low price-to-performance ratio. "Supercomputers used to be unique with unique processors," he said. "By taking advantage of a growing market, the gaming market, we are bringing the price performance to just $2 to $3 per gigaFLOPS."

He added that power consumption was also a factor, with the completed system using between 300 to 320 kilowatts at full power. Most supercomputers require 5 megawatts.

However, Mark Barnell, the high performance computing director at the laboratory, added that this does not make the PlayStation 3 "the Holy Grail of supercomputers." As the way the consoles connect with each other is relatively slow compared to regular supercomputers, the system is limited as to what kinds of programs it can run.

The research group, which was awarded a $2 million dollar grant for the cluster, has yet to take full advantage of the system's performance. Upon completion, the team expects it to be capable of 500 teraFLOPS.

Playstation 3 supercomputer

Image source: Stars and Stripes

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I don't know if it's just me but that seems real expensive $300 per a system ? 2$ to 3$ per gigaflop, how many gigaflops can you achieve per a ps3 or how many ps3s for 1 gigaflop?

Avangelon said,
I don't know if it's just me but that seems real expensive $300 per a system ? 2$ to 3$ per gigaflop, how many gigaflops can you achieve per a ps3 or how many ps3s for 1 gigaflop?

I see you agree with those talking Barbie dolls: "math is hard".

petroid said,
The true reason for the increase in PS3 sales? :P

Already said if you read previous comments. Plus, retard comment to say.

I am active duty air force, and I have been informed of other uses the USAF is using PS3s for. Unfortunately, since I can't remember if those uses are classified or not, I can't comment on exactly what those uses are.

The PS3 is a gaming console, therefore is optimized towards the computations the Air Force wants to use it for: floating point calculations. Not all processors are the same, and not all systems are the same. That is why they are using a gaming console.

That being said, I am sure there is a more efficient performance vs. cost solution they could have designed. However, that process would have cost them more money. Having someone custom make a system specifically to perform a task costs a lot of money. They probably saw that the PS3 was a very good fit for what they needed, and chose it to save manpower. I am sure there are other considerations also. That is my theory.

Despite what many people may think, the USAF is under serious budget constraints. They would not have made this decision if it did not make sense financially.

reminded this spoof: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-xlAyxtEMFk
now they have to respond with their "we have 2,000 PS3's"

haha that's badass and skyy punk it should be yo dawg, i heard you like to game? so we put a PS3 in your PS3 so you can game while you game.

That's pretty interesting, and I like that they used consumer parts to save what must be a huge amount of cash. Pretty ingenious really, and surprising that they were able to float the idea past all the sign offs.

From what is an interesting news article, there is a surprising number of negative and poorly informed comments from this community. I thought people on this board were just ****ed off at Apple, but I guess the majority of people on this board are just ****ed off.

Welcome to the new slashdot.

Shadrack said,
From what is an interesting news article, there is a surprising number of negative and poorly informed comments from this community.

Surprising? Not in the least. Over the last few years (this last year in particular), Neowin has become flooded with morons who don't know the first thing about what they are talking about. Most of them seem to come here to do nothing but bash anything non-Microsoft. This used to be a pretty fairly balanced community, but that is LONG GONE now.

Edited by roadwarrior, Feb 3 2010, 5:17pm : added extra info

Shame the picture doesn't show detail. That doesn't look like 2000 PS3's to me. I wonder if this is just a concept, rather than actual fact!

boho said,
Shame the picture doesn't show detail. That doesn't look like 2000 PS3's to me. I wonder if this is just a concept, rather than actual fact!

Quote from the listed source:
This cluster of 336 PlayStation 3 video game consoles is the beginning of a cluster of more than 2,000 consoles the Air Force is purchasing to create a supercomputer called 500 TeraFLOPS Heterogeneous Cluster, which will be housed at the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Affiliated Resource Center in Rome, N.Y.

necrosis said,
Problem is none of the new "slim" PS3's will take Linux.

Two comments above someone beat you to that too :p

Lol, welcome to last year's news :)

http://www.pcworld.idg.com.au/article/328134/u_military_building_ps3_supercomputer

https://www.fbo.gov/index?s=opportunity&mode=form&id=bac60f8808fa1e221597573901a7cd6b&tab=core&_cview=1&cck=1&au=&ck=

Anyway, at least they are putting them to some good use...

Not only is this old news, I would disagree that this isn't practical for supercomputing use as iamwhoiam says above... most supercomputer nodes communicate over Gbit LAN. So this solution more practical than some other "supercomputers",

Matt Hardwick said,
Not only is this old news, I would disagree that this isn't practical for supercomputing use as iamwhoiam says above... most supercomputer nodes communicate over Gbit LAN. So this solution more practical than some other "supercomputers",

i wonder what this ps3 setup has managed to do since it was built?

Very interesting to see a bunch of people who don't know anything about how to do this complain about the various aspects of how this was done, or by who. You guys do realize the USAF has a huge role to play in the protection of America's Internet grid, right? Them building a supercomputer these days is like the Army building a tank, or the Navy building a new ship.

Marshalus said,
Very interesting to see a bunch of people who don't know anything about how to do this complain about the various aspects of how this was done, or by who. You guys do realize the USAF has a huge role to play in the protection of America's Internet grid, right? Them building a supercomputer these days is like the Army building a tank, or the Navy building a new ship.

Welcome to console wars.

Its funny because the PS3 uses a (cripped) Cell chip and the military have access (in fact they are using) Cell chip since a couple of years ago.

Magallanes said,
Its funny because the PS3 uses a (cripped) Cell chip and the military have access (in fact they are using) Cell chip since a couple of years ago.

the main point is not the Cell chip, but the $2 that they paid for every gigaflop with the ps3 setup ... also the reduced power consumption helps as well, i guess...

The research group, which was awarded a $2 million dollar grant for the cluster, has yet to take full advantage of the system's performance. Upon completion, the team expects it to be capable of 500 teraFLOPS

good luck pushing the ps3 to its limits!

not to mention the added thing about getting that many independent computers to work together...

carmatic said,
...
not to mention the added thing about getting that many independent computers to work together...
You do realize that cluster computing is already a well-established system for supercomputers?

It's nothing new.

Edited by markjensen, Feb 3 2010, 1:08pm :

markjensen said,
You do realize that cluster computing is already a well-established system for supercomputers?

It's nothing new.

It's as if the people in this thread who post such comments are locked into thinking that a PS3 is only good for games, and have no idea about computers beyond the PC on their mommy's desk.

(facepalm x 2)

ScottKin said,
It's as if the people in this thread who post such comments are locked into thinking that a PS3 is only good for games
Hmmm... I think that probably half of Neowin would argue that the PS3 is *not* good for even games, and that the xbox360 is better. :P

I heard you like to game, so I put a PS3 with your PS3 with your PS3 with your PS3 [...] so you can game while you game while you game while you game [...]

sexypeperodri said,

Sales are sales, money is money. No difference.

Except I would wager that Sony sells the consoles at a loss to provide a foundation of the real revenue generation, the games, themselves.

Draken said,
ahhh so there's were all those "sales numbers rising" PS3's are going .....

Considering it's the old PS3s and not Slims, joke fail.

markjensen said,
Except I would wager that Sony sells the consoles at a loss to provide a foundation of the real revenue generation, the games, themselves.

Maybe the next game console from Sony will come with external Blu-ray players to avoid monetary loss from this kind of usage? LOL

now they just need to hack them to unlock the other cores that sony disables then it would run even faster! I really hope geohot and the others manage to fully hack it and have a modchip out, all cores enabled, multiregion bluray and a 3d linux driver for the gpu.

torrentthief said,
now they just need to hack them to unlock the other cores that sony disables then it would run even faster! I really hope geohot and the others manage to fully hack it and have a modchip out, all cores enabled, multiregion bluray and a 3d linux driver for the gpu.

who knows if the military has already done exactly that :shifty:

"the main reason for choosing the console for their supercomputer was it's low price-to-performance ratio."

They saved money doing this way.

"He added that power consumption was also a factor, with the completed system using between 300 to 320 kilowatts at full power. Most supercomputers require 5 megawatts."

They are saving money on power requirements big time. It is obviously for specific research in "Neuromorphic computing".

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neuromorphic

Is all the complaining just because the "U.S. Air force" is using it??? I don't get it.

revparadigm said,

Is all the complaining just because the "U.S. Air force" is using it??? I don't get it.

To me it's because they're outsourcing the CPU when they could be giving jobs to people in our own country who have excellent capabilities to develop their own cpu like IBM or Motorola. To me, this is very amateur as developing programs for the PS3 is a lot more difficult than the other 2 options I present.

Fulcrum said,

To me it's because they're outsourcing the CPU when they could be giving jobs to people in our own country who have excellent capabilities to develop their own cpu like IBM or Motorola. To me, this is very amateur as developing programs for the PS3 is a lot more difficult than the other 2 options I present.

Did you even READ the post or the article? They have the nodes running Linux, and their applications on top of Linux - they're not writing game-code on it.
(facepalm)

Fulcrum said,

To me it's because they're outsourcing the CPU when they could be giving jobs to people in our own country who have excellent capabilities to develop their own cpu like IBM or Motorola.

Who the hell do you think developed the CPU in the PS3??? IBM is one of the major developers!!

basix said,
Another 2Million that could have gone to NASA as far as I'm concerned
Oh? They reduced NASA's budget to do this, and forbid NASA from making their own supercomputer?

Because 2 Million is hardly enough to build a spaceship and go to the moon or Mars.

This was a grant to a computing organization *specifically* for making a supercomputer like this.

basix said,
Another 2Million that could have gone to NASA as far as I'm concerned

This created jobs. Jobs are jobs. US Air Force needs supercomputers.

Skyfrog said,
This seems like a silly waste of money. Game consoles aren't designed to work together this way.
Huh?

Processors are processors. And the plastic housing and other crap that makes it a "game console" hardly matter when set up the cluster using software (Linux), which *is* designed to work together that way.

This is a very good use of money, as it is one of the cheapest way to get a good supercomputer. Read up on it a bit, you might be surprised how little this costs compared to a "traditional" supercomputer.

Skyfrog said,
This seems like a silly waste of money. Game consoles aren't designed to work together this way.

EPIC FAIL ... software is software.

Matt Hardwick said,

EPIC FAIL ... software is software.

I'm talking about the way the hardware is physically connected, not the software. Game consoles were never designed to be connected together. It even mentions it in the article: "As the way the consoles connect with each other is relatively slow compared to regular supercomputers, the system is limited as to what kinds of programs it can run."

Edited by Thrackerzod, Feb 3 2010, 2:16pm :

Skyfrog said,

I'm talking about the way the hardware is physically connected, not the software. Game consoles were never designed to be connected together. It even mentions it in the article: "As the way the consoles connect with each other is relatively slow compared to regular supercomputers, the system is limited as to what kinds of programs it can run."


It's a limitation. Traditional supercomputers take advantage of very high speed connections to interconnect, PS3 is not ready to use that technology. But that kind of limitation doesn't seem to be an issue here, the main goal was to build a cheap cluster with off-the-shelf material that would perform the tasks required. That goal seems to be accomplished.

Skyfrog said,

I'm talking about the way the hardware is physically connected, not the software. Game consoles were never designed to be connected together. It even mentions it in the article: "As the way the consoles connect with each other is relatively slow compared to regular supercomputers, the system is limited as to what kinds of programs it can run."

This has already been addressed, 100Mb < 1Gb, or in some supercomputer cases, 10Gb fibre channels.

Cheapest supercomputer around.

Skyfrog said,
This seems like a silly waste of money. Game consoles aren't designed to work together this way.

Wow. The article just explained how much money they saved by doing this. Your comment was dismissed by the article.

aniv said,
What happens when the YLOD strikes?
The **** is that lol. I've never even heard of that term. Is that the mythical PS3 failure? :P

And yay for Sony, 20,000 more sales! ...and your still in dead last lol

CheeseFart said,
isn't the hardware access limited in the ps3 linux?

not any more. an exploit has been found that allows access to the hardware of the ps3 under the (other os) function.

CheeseFart said,
isn't the hardware access limited in the ps3 linux?
The graphics access is limited. No 3-D hardware acceleration, if I recall correctly.

But that hardly affects its use as a clustered supercomputer. They aren't playing games on it.

markjensen said,
The graphics access is limited. No 3-D hardware acceleration, if I recall correctly.

But that hardly affects its use as a clustered supercomputer. They aren't playing games on it.

That could run Crysis at like, 912109381023910238981230 FPS

Cupcakes said,
Is there an emphasis on the "flop" here? ;)

No. That is how TeraFLOPS is supposed to be capitalized. FLOPS is an acronym for "floating point operations per second".

roadwarrior said,

No. That is how TeraFLOPS is supposed to be capitalized. FLOPS is an acronym for "floating point operations per second".


sarcasm?