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Air Force Still Using PS3 as 33rd Largest Computer

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.

  • dalauder
    They should sell those off on ebay for $80 bucks each.
    Reply
  • Parsian
    that must of got on Sony's nerve lol... HPC at the loss of Sony
    Reply
  • aznshinobi
    dalauderThey should sell those off on ebay for $80 bucks each.
    Classics, IMO, look better than the new PS3's.
    Reply
  • LATTEH
    D: all i want is just one
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • rbarone69
    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!
    Reply
  • nottheking
    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.
    Reply
  • tsnorquist
    @nottheking

    I'll sleep better tonight knowing you're smarter than then entire United States Air Force in their decision making.
    Reply
  • Kileak
    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?
    Reply
  • davewolfgang
    Dude - it's called parallel processing.

    And you also must not have read the COST part of the story, huh???
    Reply