PS3 Supercomputer Opened to University Reseachers

Andy Chalk

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Nov 12, 2002
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PS3 Supercomputer Opened to University Reseachers


The U.S. Air Force has opened its PlayStation 3-based supercomputer for use in university research projects including the development of "artificial neural networks," which sounds suspiciously like a fancy term for Skynet.

The USAF finished work on the Condor Cluster [http://www.escapistmagazine.com/news/view/105767-U-S-Air-Force-Finishes-PS3-Supercomputer-of-Epic-Proportions], its PS3-based supercomputer, back in December 2010. Ranked among the 40 fastest computers in the world, Condor is made up of 1716 PlayStation 3 consoles, 168 general-purpose GPUs and 78 compute servers powered by 2.67 GHz Intel Xenon processors. It was built for roughly one-tenth the cost of a traditional supercomputer and yet uses about one-tenth of the power as well, making it a truly remarkable machine.

Initially used exclusively by the Air Force to analyze spy plane images and other data, the machine has now been made available to various universities for other research purposes. Among them is the University of Dayton in Ohio, which is currently working on the creation of artificial neural networks. The project is focused primarily on two algorithms, one using traditional neural networks and the other using a more "biological" approach meant to model synapses in the human brain. That's something the PlayStation 3 is particularly well-suited to handle, according to Tarek Taha, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at the university. "The PS3's Cell processor handles a lot of parallelism, like neurons in a brain," Taha said.

And where might this research ultimately lead? Taha said the technology could one day be incorporated into unammed aerial vehicles, allowing them to carry their own powerful, low-energy supercomputers rather than having to cope with bandwidth limitations to and from the aircraft. The unsaid but obvious implication is that this would allow UAVs to recognize, identify and engage targets without the need for human intervention, and of course what could possibly go wrong with that?

While we wait for that nightmare scenario to unfold, University of Massachusetts Assistant Professor of Physics Gaurav Khanna, one of the few researchers who has already been given access to the Condor Cluster, is assisting the Air Force Research Laboratory with the development of benchmarking software that it hopes will verify once and for all the Condor's claim as one of the world's fastest supercomputers. It's not expected to take back the number-one spot claimed in November 2010 by China's Tianhe-1A, but its innovative use of consumer electronics may prove to be "a catalyst in the world of high-performance computing."

Khanna, who has used roughly 300 PS3s in the cluster in his research on gravitational waves, also praised the Sony-based system for its impressive durability. "They've been running almost continuously for four years now and it's a non-ideal environment. It's a lab, there are students," he said, adding that none of the machines in the cluster have needed replacing.

The AFRL says it will put out a paper outline the results of its Condor Cluster research in June.

Source: GovTech.com [http://www.govtech.com/technology/PlayStation-3-Providing-Supercomputing-to-Universities.html]


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robotam

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Jun 7, 2010
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Don't worry this version of Skynet can't hurt us.
'Cause PSN's still down.





To be fair, I know my joke is stupid. I'm just a little annoyed at the lack of PSN.
 

Trekkie

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Sep 21, 2008
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Why dose the US air force have a PS£ based super computer? i get the super computer part but PS3 based?
 

Tom Hill

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Jun 28, 2010
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robotam said:
Don't worry this version of Skynet can't hurt us.
'Cause PSN's still down.
Hear hear. Irritated also.

(btw they aren't using the ps3s OS for obvious reasons, they are using them because of their CELL preprocessor which is apparently much cheaper to find in the ps3 than anywhere else)
will have to take my word for it though, as I can't find my source anymore, this is actually really, really old news)
 

mireko

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Sep 23, 2010
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That's awesome. Now all they need to do is make a "I have 300 PS3s" video.
 

Ajna

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Mar 19, 2009
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Bling1907 said:
They use PS3-based supercomputers? Man, gotta love US.
"gotta love the US" >implies that designing one of the 40 best supercomputers in the world for 1/10[sup]th[/sup] the standard cost of a supercomputer, while using 1/10[sup]th[/sup] the standard power of a supercomputer is somehow a bad thing.

EDIT: My apologies if I read sarcasm where there wasn't any. Difficult to tell online, sometimes.
 

Megawat22

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Aug 7, 2010
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Take that XBox...?
Never thought I'd hear someone say they've made a supercomputer out of 300 PS3s but, hey, there you go.
 

midpipps

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Feb 23, 2009
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mireko said:
That's awesome. Now all they need to do is make a "I have 300 PS3s" video.
actually

Andy Chalk said:
Condor is made up of 1716 PlayStation 3 consoles, 168 general-purpose GPUs and 78 compute servers powered by 2.67 GHz Intel Xenon processors.


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Popido

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Oct 21, 2010
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How did they make them work without the homebrewing ability?

Wait..Why is this legal in the first place?
 

Deus mortuus est

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Apr 26, 2011
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I for one welcome our robotic overlords.

IIRC I read this article a couple of months back that said that when Sony removed the option to install another OS in the PS3 they also pretty much ruined this project, or one very similar, since if a machine now breaks down they can't get a new one with the old software on it. Unless they hack them of course.
 

ThisIsSnake

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Mar 3, 2011
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Popido said:
How did they make them work without the homebrewing ability?

Wait..Why is this legal in the first place?
Because Sony has said already that you can do whatever you want with a PS3 provided you don't use it to connect to the PSN.
 

Fensfield

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Nov 4, 2009
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ThisIsSnake said:
Popido said:
How did they make them work without the homebrewing ability?

Wait..Why is this legal in the first place?
Because Sony has said already that you can do whatever you want with a PS3 provided you don't use it to connect to the PSN.
Yep, I believe the quote went something along the lines of 'If you don't like losing homebrew support, don't update it.'
 

nathan-dts

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Jun 18, 2008
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They must of taken to eBay, considering only "phat" PS3's can be used. These are the only people who can generally be unhappy about the lack of OtherOS.
 

rickynumber24

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Feb 25, 2011
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Popido said:
How did they make them work without the homebrewing ability?

Wait..Why is this legal in the first place?
They started doing this before OtherOS was removed. I hadn't realized quite how many devices were in it, but I knew it was happening. Given that the PS3 is a loss leader, they probably cost Sony around $200,000, considering they'll never buy games or blu-ray discs for them. It's clusters like this and numbers like that which lend credence to the claim (being made in the class-action suit against Sony regarding OtherOS) that they took it away for monetary reasons. Another plausible explanation that involves money is that IBM leaned on Sony to stop selling Cell blades at a loss because they were taking business away from IBM.