Sign in with
Sign up | Sign in

Air Force Still Using PS3 as 33rd Largest Computer

By - Source: Tom's Hardware US | B 64 comments

No, it can't, not without a Blu-ray Disc drive.

We've talked multiple times about the PlayStation 3 cluster that the U.S. Air Force has working for it, doing intense and fast analysis of high-resolution images, and a new story from Cleveland.com brings a few new details.

For one, the USAF now as 1,760 PlayStation 3 consoles that make up its supercomputer called the Condor Cluster. Mark Barnell, the high-performance computing director at the Air Force Research Lab's operation in Rome, NY believes that its PS3 farm is about the 33rd largest computer in the world.

That number could be slipping, however, as newer and faster technologies come into play. When the PlayStation 3 launched, the USAF selected it for both its hardware and price.

"It was very good and revolutionary, and it contained some architecture that didn't exist at that time," Barnell said. "So we're looking forward to working with the next generation of architecture."

To get the same level of power, the USAF would have had to spend $10,000 to get the same as what could be done by a PS3 at the fraction of the cost. That was some time ago, so now the USAF is looking towards the next generation.

Until then, the USAF will be working with its classic PS3s. It won't be any fun and games, though, as the machines run Linux and have had their Blu-ray Disc drives disabled, likely for both security measures and to prevent endless loops of Avatar in 3D.

Discuss
Display all 64 comments.
This thread is closed for comments
Top Comments
  • 25 Hide
    tsnorquist , December 5, 2010 10:40 PM
    @nottheking

    I'll sleep better tonight knowing you're smarter than then entire United States Air Force in their decision making.
  • 22 Hide
    webbwbb , December 5, 2010 10:58 PM
    notthekingWell, here's the lowdown: the the PS3 makes a terrible supercomputer node. Why's that? It's because its Cell processor was not designed for double-precision.


    They are using it to process satellite images, not for creating scientific models. With image processing single precision works very well and it IS very powerful at 317 teraflops which I would say qualifies it as a supercomputer.
  • 21 Hide
    rbarone69 , December 5, 2010 10:10 PM
    americanherosandwich$10,000? Divide that by 1,760, it means they bought each PS3 for $5.68? I don't think that's accurate. Hell, they have laptops that cost $10k.


    "To get the same level of power, the USAF would have had to spend $10,000 to get ths same as what could be done by a PS3 at the fraction of the cost"

    Read that again :)  They would have had to invest 10k PER module, not 10k for all the PS3s.

    So...

    $ 17,600,000 vs $ 528,000

    Great savings there!
Other Comments
  • -3 Hide
    dalauder , December 5, 2010 9:45 PM
    They should sell those off on ebay for $80 bucks each.
  • 3 Hide
    Parsian , December 5, 2010 9:47 PM
    that must of got on Sony's nerve lol... HPC at the loss of Sony
  • 18 Hide
    aznshinobi , December 5, 2010 9:51 PM
    dalauderThey should sell those off on ebay for $80 bucks each.


    Classics, IMO, look better than the new PS3's.
  • 3 Hide
    LATTEH , December 5, 2010 9:58 PM
    D: all i want is just one
  • 21 Hide
    rbarone69 , December 5, 2010 10:10 PM
    americanherosandwich$10,000? Divide that by 1,760, it means they bought each PS3 for $5.68? I don't think that's accurate. Hell, they have laptops that cost $10k.


    "To get the same level of power, the USAF would have had to spend $10,000 to get ths same as what could be done by a PS3 at the fraction of the cost"

    Read that again :)  They would have had to invest 10k PER module, not 10k for all the PS3s.

    So...

    $ 17,600,000 vs $ 528,000

    Great savings there!
  • 11 Hide
    nottheking , December 5, 2010 10:30 PM
    This "supercomputer" is purely a marketing gimmick by the Air Force, to make them attract people from the gamer audience. The Air Force, as I'd learned, is desperate to reach out to that sort of demographic, and they feel that by boasting they have a lot of PS3s, they can make themselves seem better to these potential recruits.

    Well, here's the lowdown: the the PS3 makes a terrible supercomputer node. Why's that? It's because its Cell processor was not designed for double-precision. The PS3's CPU gets an admirable 211.2 Gigaflops of performance in single-precision math... But single-precision is only good for media and gaming tasks. Actual scientific, engineering, and HPC tasks NEED double-precision. And at that... The Cell trails badly, dropping to about 32 gigaflops.

    Computers are an engineering thing: you CAN'T have a design that's best at everything. You have to sacrifice one thing to get another. The PS3 sacrifices any real supercomputing capability in order to be good at being both a gaming machine, and a high-definition media center/Blu-ray player. The flip side is that for this "PS3 cluster," the Air Force is only getting a measly 56.32 Teraflops of actual supercomputer power. (the RSX is a GeForce design that pre-dates CUDA)

    If they wanted a real supercomputer, they'd use IBM's modified supercomputer variant of the Cell, the PowerXCell 8i. This is what's ACTUALLY used for supercomputers: it natively handles double-precision, and gets 108.8 gigaflops instead of only 32. That would bump the machine up to nearly 200 teraflops of power, which would put it in REAL major supercomputer territory. That, and IBM MAKES PowerXCell blades that are made for this, and are VASTLY more energy-efficient than using PS3s.

    It's kinda telling: you look at the most powerful supercomputers in the world, and not a single one uses a PS3. But many of them use the PowerXCell. (including a former #1, RoadRunner) That demonstrates that this Air Force machine is all for show.
  • 25 Hide
    tsnorquist , December 5, 2010 10:40 PM
    @nottheking

    I'll sleep better tonight knowing you're smarter than then entire United States Air Force in their decision making.
  • 10 Hide
    Kileak , December 5, 2010 10:42 PM
    How many PS3s does it take to find Osama bin Laden?

    More than 1,760 apparently!

    Or is the USAF not in charge of analyzing satellite imagery?
  • 3 Hide
    davewolfgang , December 5, 2010 10:52 PM
    Dude - it's called parallel processing.

    And you also must not have read the COST part of the story, huh???
  • 7 Hide
    drago3711 , December 5, 2010 10:53 PM
    For the record a "Condor Cluster" is any cluster based computer which uses condor as its job manager. My university for example has a condor cluster as well.

    Anyone interested in the condor software, its free and can be found here: http://www.cs.wisc.edu/condor/
  • 22 Hide
    webbwbb , December 5, 2010 10:58 PM
    notthekingWell, here's the lowdown: the the PS3 makes a terrible supercomputer node. Why's that? It's because its Cell processor was not designed for double-precision.


    They are using it to process satellite images, not for creating scientific models. With image processing single precision works very well and it IS very powerful at 317 teraflops which I would say qualifies it as a supercomputer.
  • -4 Hide
    gh0st , December 5, 2010 11:18 PM
    rbarone69"To get the same level of power, the USAF would have had to spend $10,000 to get ths same as what could be done by a PS3 at the fraction of the cost"Read that again They would have had to invest 10k PER module, not 10k for all the PS3s.So... $ 17,600,000 vs $ 528,000Great savings there!

    your both wrong...they saved 10k....
  • 3 Hide
    nottheking , December 5, 2010 11:19 PM
    tsnorquist@notthekingI'll sleep better tonight knowing you're smarter than then entire United States Air Force in their decision making.

    I wouldn't.

    webbwbbThey are using it to process satellite images, not for creating scientific models. With image processing single precision works very well and it IS very powerful at 317 teraflops which I would say qualifies it as a supercomputer.

    Still, even if their design is to use single-precision math only, the PS3 still makes a terrible choice: you're still spending all that money (and burning all that electricity) on parts that will still draw some even though they don't contribute. Remember me mentioning that the GPU's functions, even if NOT locked-out by Sony's firmware, are useless for GPGPU: the RSX is a modified G71, while CUDA requires a G80 or later.

    In that case, a true GPGPU solution would've been better; $400 got them a single 211.2 Gigaflop PS3, but $100 buys a 1-teraflop Radeon 4850. Both require additional hardware to set them up in a network. (hence why the PS3s only accounted for $704,000US out of the $2US million price given) Assuming a similar x3 price to turn the base hardware into a supercomputer network, that means where the DoD spent $2US million on a PS3 supercomputer, a comparable-power 4850-based setup would've run them about $100,000US. In other words, about the opposite of the ratio they gave; while they claimed the PS3 let them spend 1/20th-1/25th as much, in reality, a 4850-based setup would've let them do it for 1/20th the cost of the PS3 setup.
  • -8 Hide
    gh0st , December 5, 2010 11:21 PM
    tsnorquist@notthekingI'll sleep better tonight knowing you're smarter than then entire United States Air Force in their decision making.

    k,smartass let's see how smart you really are....
  • -6 Hide
    m3kw9 , December 5, 2010 11:26 PM
    It ain't a supercomputer no more after sony updated it's firmware to remove Other OS.
  • -1 Hide
    kingnoobe , December 5, 2010 11:50 PM
    I'm gonna have to go with nott on this one. Simply because it makes sense. And it's not that he's smarter then the Air Force, but they do do some stupid ass shit. Just like the army does. Now with that said we don't really know how much they paid for the ps3. They could've worked out a really great deal with sony that made it worth it.

    Then again it is the Air Force and just like the Army they probably paid more then retail price for each one lol.
  • -1 Hide
    cashews , December 6, 2010 12:04 AM
    Maybe they just needed the PS3 cluster to play Crysis 2?
  • -1 Hide
    theshonen8899 , December 6, 2010 12:06 AM
    Video games helping society. Beautiful.
  • 12 Hide
    scook9 , December 6, 2010 12:15 AM
    notthekingI wouldn't.Still, even if their design is to use single-precision math only, the PS3 still makes a terrible choice: you're still spending all that money (and burning all that electricity) on parts that will still draw some even though they don't contribute. Remember me mentioning that the GPU's functions, even if NOT locked-out by Sony's firmware, are useless for GPGPU: the RSX is a modified G71, while CUDA requires a G80 or later.In that case, a true GPGPU solution would've been better; $400 got them a single 211.2 Gigaflop PS3, but $100 buys a 1-teraflop Radeon 4850. Both require additional hardware to set them up in a network. (hence why the PS3s only accounted for $704,000US out of the $2US million price given) Assuming a similar x3 price to turn the base hardware into a supercomputer network, that means where the DoD spent $2US million on a PS3 supercomputer, a comparable-power 4850-based setup would've run them about $100,000US. In other words, about the opposite of the ratio they gave; while they claimed the PS3 let them spend 1/20th-1/25th as much, in reality, a 4850-based setup would've let them do it for 1/20th the cost of the PS3 setup.

    You seem to have missed a key point...for $400 (or less) they have a ready to deploy node...your 4850 (while powerful for computing no doubt) still needs the rest of a computer to make it operational. Part of why they chose this is for the ease of deployment for the cost. It was also almost definitely easier to design their software to run on full-fledged CPUs instead of a GPU that would need to have all the code ported to the new architecture.

    And as was said again....I am sure you are just that much smarter than them. I know they are "only the government" but they tend to get a lot right in regards to technology (NOT talking policies here)
Display more comments