At North Carolina State University, Dr. Frank Mueller imagined using the power of the new PS3 to create a high-powered computing environment for a fraction of the cost of the supercomputers on the market. Mueller, an associate professor of computer science, has built a supercomputing cluster capable of both high-performance computing and running the latest in computer gaming. His cluster of eight PS3 machines – the first such academic cluster in the world – packs the power of a small supercomputer, but only costs about $5,000, much less than some desktop computers that have only a fraction of the computing power. "Scientific computing is just number crunching, which the PS3s are very good at given the Cell processor and deploying them in a cluster. Right now one limitation is the 512 megabyte RAM memory constraint, but it might be possible to retrofit more RAM. We just haven't cracked the case and explored that option yet," Mueller says. Another problem lies in limited speed for double-precision calculations required by scientific applications, but announcements for the next-generation Cell processor address this issue.
The PS3 allows the Linux operating system to be installed, and IBM designed the programming environment for programming the Cell processor (including eight vectorization units), which combined tremendous computing power within a single PS3. According to Mueller, each PS3 unit contains six operational special-purpose cores for number crunching and one general-purpose core that is two-way multithreaded in his configuration, so the eight machines clustered have 64 logical processors. "Jan. 3 is the 'birthdate' of this cluster. Of course, here at NC State we will use it for educational purposes and for research. We are working with scientists to determine the needs and how our cluster can be used to their benefit, and our computer science faculty is already using the cluster to teach classes in operating systems, with parallel systems, compilers and gaming likely to follow," says Mueller.
News source: Physorg