Tuesday, December 23, 2014

PS3 Made Into Supercomputer to Study Black Holes

Image courtesy of The New  York Times
Consumers may have moved onto the newest PlayStation, but PS3 still has some life in it. So much life, in fact, that Dr. Gaurav Khanna has configured 200 of the older consoles to create a supercomputer to study black holes.

Speaking with The New York Times, the physicist discussed working at the University of Massachusetts Darmouth and, despite what you may think, the PS3 is the perfect machine to create a cheap, efficient supercomputer out of. “Science has become expensive,” said Dr. Khanna. “There’s simply not that much money going around, either at the university or the federal level. Supercomputing allows scientists to make up for the resources they don’t have.”

This is possible because of the cell processors in the console, which have notoriously made it hard to code for, make the PS3 a powerhouse when it comes to raw computing power. Throw in the fact that users can install separate operating systems, such as Linux, on the machine and you have the perfect building block for a supercomputer.

Image courtesy of University of Massachusetts Dartmouth
In 2009 Dr. Khanna wrote a paper to discuss how the PS3 can increase scientific calculations over a regular computer by a factor of 10, and it seems to be catching on. “Our PS3 supercomputer is capable of processing the complex computations required to create a detailed image of an entire city from radar data,” said Mark Barnell. Barnell is the director of high performance computing at the Air Force Research Laboratory, which has entered into a cooperative partnership with Dr. Khanna, donating 175 PS3s towards the computer with plans to add another 220 towards the project. 

When all is said and done, Dr. Khanna was able to create a supercomputer that matches the processing power of 3 000 laptops for $75 000, a tenth of the cost of a traditional supercomputer. Two research papers have already been published based off of this research, with more to come. For more news on PS3 and gaming news today, stay tuned to The Jesters Court. 

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