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Playstation 3: new over-the-counter supercomputer

by Archives October 28, 2008

If you think a Playstation is only useful to play games or watch movies, think again.
Many researchers are using the PS3 as an alternative to highly expensive supercomputers. Astrophysicist Gaurav Khanna, for example, used to rely on a supercomputer with 500 processors to calculate the effects of gravitational waves in space. Now he uses a group of 16 PS3s clustered together, the equivalent of about 400 processors.
Khanna can do this for two main reasons. Firstly, the PS3’s Cell processor is very powerful. Secondly, it allows the user to install another operating system, namely Linux, as well as its own system. This combination makes the PS3 a perfect, and cheap, alternative to a supercomputer.
Price-wise, 16 PS3s cost approximately $6,000 while a single use of a supercomputer can cost over $5,000.
Playstation can also run a program called folding@home (recently renamed Life with Playstation) installed on every PS3 that allows users to “lend” their console to Stanford University so they can use it to help calculate how proteins “fold,” or assemble. The information then helps researchers find cures for diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
All you have to do is leave your Playstation on and it works from a file sent from Stanford. The file is sent back once it’s done, thus helping in the university’s research by saving on the costs of buying or using a costly supercomputer. According to their statistics, there are almost 63,000 PS3s “folding.”
If 16 PS3s equal a small supercomputer, imagine what 1,000 PS3s can do. All these PS3s have reached 1,000,000,000,000,000 operations per second. This is a little less than half the power of the IBM Roadrunner, the world’s most powerful supercomputer.
The program is also available for PCs, however researchers at Stanford found that a single PS3 is 20 times as fast and powerful as a typical PC, so around 63,000 PS3s offer about nine times the speed of 200,000 PCs.
Whoever thought a game console could calculate gravitational waves or help cure diseases?

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