Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
PlayStation (Games) Supercomputing Games Linux

USAF Unveils Supercomputer Made of 1,760 PS3s 163

Posted by Soulskill
from the going-for-the-gusto dept.
digitaldc writes with this excerpt from Gamasutra: "The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) has connected 1,760 PlayStation 3 systems together to create what the organization is calling the fastest interactive computer in the entire Defense Department. The Condor Cluster, as the group of systems is known, also includes 168 separate graphical processing units and 84 coordinating servers in a parallel array capable of performing 500 trillion floating point operations per second (500 TFLOPS), according to AFRL Director of High Power Computing Mark Barnell."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

USAF Unveils Supercomputer Made of 1,760 PS3s

Comments Filter:
  • Don't Update (Score:5, Informative)

    by PaddyM (45763) on Friday December 03, 2010 @05:37PM (#34437668) Homepage

    Don't get the firmware update that gets rid of Linux. OOPS!

    • by Anonymous Coward

      More importantly, don't let any of them wear out...Seriously, the USAF should sue Sony to get replacement machines that *will* boot Linux!!!...and make Sony sell them to the rest of us (along with the software PS2 emulation, if they won't give us the Emotion Engine chips for hardware emulation).

      • by Narishma (822073)

        They should also force them to give every one of us either a pony or a pink unicorn.

      • by Gravatron (716477)
        I'd imagine sony could give them the old firmware, and they could just load it off a thumbrdirve.
      • Re:Don't Update (Score:4, Insightful)

        by hairyfeet (841228) <{bassbeast1968} {at} {gmail.com}> on Friday December 03, 2010 @08:20PM (#34439622) Journal

        Hi MR AC! I think what you and many of the other posters are missing is that having Linux on PS3 was BAD for Sony and here is why: Game consoles are traditionally sold using what is more commonly known as the "razor and blades" model, in that consoles are sold at a loss and they then make up for that loss PLUS make their profits on the blades, that is the licenses for games and peripherals

        Now as I'm sure someone will point out the PS3 is no longer sold at a loss (does anybody know what they make? $5? Just because it isn't sold as a loss doesn't mean it is making anything either) but since we know these are running Linux that means every single one of those 1760 PS3s cost Sony money that they will NEVER make back. Because I seriously doubt the USAF is gonna be picking up 1760 copies of Little Big Planet or Move controllers.

        So as you can see allowing Linux on the PS3, which allowed it to be used as a non gaming machines was a seriously BAD idea on Sony's part, and they were very right to kill it. Now I would agree that killing the support in older ones through an update was wrong, but not offering it on newer machines was the right idea. Imagine if they kept Linux and setups like the USAF took off: What good would selling hundreds of thousands of PS3s do Sony when not a single one of those machines will be buying any games or Blu Ray movies? Why would game publishers care about a system whose biggest selling point was lab work? So I'm sorry FOSS guys, but in the end it had less to do with Linux and everything to do with business. Sony is already in last place, having tons of machines locked away in labs don't help their bottom line any.

        • You make it sound like they are unable to produce new machines, or that those 1760 machines sold equals 1760 actual gamer customers who now won't buy a ps3. Spurious logic sorry, although I do understand your point about the business model in use.
          • by hairyfeet (841228)

            Sorry if I didn't make myself clear, I'll try to explain my position: We know that the machines sold with Linux were sold at a loss so even if they are making $10 or whatever on a machine we know for a fact that those 1760 PS3s were sold at a loss. Now they are never gonna make back that money, not today, not ever. it's gone with the wind.

            Now I would argue that even if they aren't being sold at a loss they certainly aren't making enough profit on PS3 hardware alone to sustain their business and fund R&

            • by Psykechan (255694)

              The worst business decision was removing a feature. You can argue about how ever having Linux on the PS3 was a bad business decision but the point is they did it. Removal of the feature in the redesigned units was acceptable but they removed it from existing units.

              Linux on the PS3 allowed Sony to have free publicity news articles every time a supercomputer was mentioned. They may not have made any direct profit on those units but they did get to benefit from economics of scale [wikipedia.org]. Heck, this is a company t

              • by hairyfeet (841228)

                Uhhh...did you miss my original post when I said "removing the feature from existing units was wrong" and a bad move? I agree 100% that removing an already existing feature from units out in the wild is seriously stupid and as your post points out the bad will alone probably cost them hundreds, maybe even thousands of sales, which being last place they could ill afford. To me it is just further proof that Sony has been insolated so long in their "happy Sony proprietary land" that they just don't get it. Jus

        • Re:Don't Update (Score:4, Insightful)

          by rhyder128k (1051042) on Saturday December 04, 2010 @01:11AM (#34441444) Homepage

          The publicity is worth quite a lot to them. It gets the PS3 a few mentions in the press in a context that suggests that the hardware is still considered extremely powerful. The mystical computational capability of the Cell is a large part of how Sony has promoted the PS3.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by colordev (1764040)
      Good downgrades are available [ps3hacks.info] as Sony is loosing the PS3 jailbreak fight by a technical knockout
  • I hope they don't accidentally update the firmware. (I think the latest updates will wipe the linux installation.)

  • Why exactly did they do this? And why with PS3s of all things?
    • by Desler (1608317)

      Because PS3s are comparatively cheap as nodes to build a supercomputer with?

      • by Chaostrophy (925)

        If you are enough of a god to fully use it, the Cell is an awesome CPU. You have a simple PPC cpu (I want to say two threads, no out of order, but good theoretical IPC), and 8 processors, each with their own 256KB of memory. Of course, you have to manage those processors and their memory usage, without killing the main memory bus.........not simple or easy, though if you think about it as a extremely CISC vector machine, it may well make sense for scientific computing (stream data several sets, mangle it th

    • Re:Why? (Score:4, Informative)

      by wed128 (722152) <woodrowdouglass.gmail@com> on Friday December 03, 2010 @05:41PM (#34437736)

      Cheaper then the IBM CELL Blades...

      • I still wish I could have been a fly on the wall when this purchase order went through:

        Purchasing Agent: Excuse me Colonel, I just got a purchase order signed by you for 1,700 video games systems, I don't know how that happened but I wanted to call and correct...

        Colonel: No, that's correct, 1760 PS3 video game systems, you see we're building a...

        PA: I can't buy you 1760 video game consoles, they'll fire me.

        C: No really, it's a valid project, you see we're going to build a huge cell process...

        PA: Colonel, pl

        • You can't stop us, Audit Trolls, we're using it for Black Ops! So Go Away!

      • by nschubach (922175)

        I'm curious how they got access to the GPUs... I thought those were restricted to basically a frame-buffer.

    • It's this little processor known as 'The Cell'. Google it.
      • by l0ungeb0y (442022)

        What's even more interesting is that in 2005 IBM and Sony tried to sway Jobs to migrate to Cell after IBM essentially called it a day on consumer line of POWER processors (PowerPC). As I recall, Sony even offered to build a PS3 emulator for the OS X platform to sweeten the deal. However, Jobs was reluctant to have the Apple brand compared in anyway to a gaming console, Cell Blades in the server room be damned.

        Fast forward to 2010, Apple migrated to x86 chips, have had huge success with their mac-mini server

        • by ZosX (517789)

          And IBM continues to develop the Power architecture, which is wiping the floor with most chips out there these days. Something tells me that intel offered chips at a significantly cheaper rate than the ibm powerpcs. I don't believe for a second it had anything to do with performance or power consumption. Though, they were black eyes in the powerpc architecture around 5 years ago. If anything I was always fond of apples because they were different, right down to the CPU, and now they are basically a really e

          • by l0ungeb0y (442022)

            No, IBM cancelled the PowerPC line because Apple wasn't moving enough chips to justify keeping the fabs going for it. Instead, they focused on Cell.

            IBM pushed hard to convince Apple to move to Cell since having both Sony and Apple on board would have guaranteed more sales for them, but Apple went with Intel. If any undercutting was done, it was Intel undercutting AMD to seal the deal with Apple. Either way, Apple's move from PowerPC was forced.

            • by pnewhook (788591)

              The PowerPC is not cancelled - it's used in lots of things and actively being developed.

            • Re:Why? (Score:4, Informative)

              by rubycodez (864176) on Saturday December 04, 2010 @02:33AM (#34441774)

              you must be one of those people who think the PC in PowerPC stands for Personal Computer.

              Performance Optimization With Enhanced RISC – Performance Computing

              Variants of the PowerPC architecture are in about half of all automobiles, most video game consoles, all IBM mainframes and Power7 servers and blades, some aircraft control systems......

    • Because thousands of PS3s cost less than a normal supercomputer. This means they can get a lot more supercomputer for their buck.

    • Re:Why? (Score:4, Funny)

      by twoallbeefpatties (615632) on Friday December 03, 2010 @05:43PM (#34437760)
      Because they had a ton of leftover trade-in value at Gamestop.
    • Re:Why? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Monkeedude1212 (1560403) on Friday December 03, 2010 @05:44PM (#34437780) Journal

      At the time of the PS3's release, it was very affordable for the Cell Architecture and performance it provided, and you could put your own operating system on it.

      You know how Sony lost money on every PS3 sold... but then made the costs back with like 10 dollars from every game?

      And you notice how the government bought 1,760 thousand of these things (or more) for a non-gaming purpose?

      Did you hear the firmware updates and new PS3s remove the "Other OS" option?

      Or did you think that those 3 incidents were entirely unrelated?

      Man I ask a lot of questions.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        At the time of the PS3's release, it was very affordable for the Cell Architecture and performance it provided, and you could put your own operating system on it.

        You know how Sony lost money on every PS3 sold... but then made the costs back with like 10 dollars from every game?

        And you notice how the government bought 1,760 thousand of these things (or more) for a non-gaming purpose?

        Did you hear the firmware updates and new PS3s remove the "Other OS" option?

        Or did you think that those 3 incidents were entirely unrelated?

        Man I ask a lot of questions.

        You fail to understand the economies of scale.

        While it is true in a sense that Sony spent more on each PS3 than they charged for them at the beginning of the cycle of the product, most of those costs are sunk costs in manufacturing. The more PS3s they sold, the less they were losing (rather than the other way around, which is the infantile economics view a lot of people claimed).

        Now they have sold so many PS3s that the sunk costs are more than paid for, but it's not sensible to say current PS3s are profita

        • Proof? My understanding that they were losing money on every PS3 regardless of scale, just like printers lose money on every sale, but make the money back in ink cartridge prices.

          It's a different but equally valid model, and one that you have disregarded so that you can call other people "infantile" for recognizing it.

          From Digital Trends: "Since the PS3&rsquo;s debut in November of 2006, every console been sold for a loss. With the move to a new cheaper and cooler RSX graphics card, the PS3 is finally
        • Re:Why? (Score:4, Interesting)

          by AK Marc (707885) on Friday December 03, 2010 @06:14PM (#34438226)
          While it is true in a sense that Sony spent more on each PS3 than they charged for them at the beginning of the cycle of the product, most of those costs are sunk costs in manufacturing.

          No, they were losing actual money on each one. That is, they spent some amount of money to design and tool for it. Then, for each one they put out, they spent more on the materials and construction than they took in. They weren't making money but not paying off the initial cost. They were actually losing money on each one. They required game sales to make up the difference. And they did.

          Now they have sold so many PS3s that the sunk costs are more than paid for, but it's not sensible to say current PS3s are profitable and older ones were not.

          The hardware profits (if any) have still not reached the level of the hardware development and production costs. They have not now, or ever, made money on putting out PS3 hardware.

          Think of it like this. You buy a $100 grill and $200 in meat to cook and sell hamburgers. You eventually sell 1000 burgers at $2.

          You are wrong. It's like buying a $1000 grill and $1000 in meat to sell 100 hamburgers at $5 each. You spent $2000 to make $500. There is no way to buy another batch of $1000 meat and sell another set of burgers at $5 to make up the difference. However, Sony knows this. They sold it with fries and a drink. The cost for fries and a drink is $1 per order, and the combo is sold at $12. So if everyone who walks up buys only a burger, Sony would have gone out of business (provided they made enough burgers). However, almost everyone gets the combo, so Sony makes about a 10% profit overall on the burger, even though they are selling them at a loss.

          This isn't like car sales, which is how you described (except for the Volt, which loses money for each one sold with no way to ever make it up, so they are written off as R&D expenses or such). It takes over a billion dollars to design and tool for a new car, so the first one is either sold at a billion dollar loss, or all of them get some percentage of that cost attached to them causing the net profit to be called a loss until some volume is achieved. But the Volt and the PS3 were sold for an actual loss. The more volume sold, the greater the loss.
        • Really now - because when I saw the price drop to $299 I thought to myself The processor and GPU alone could probably go for that cost and now they're adding on a couple of controllers and a bunch of plastic.

          So I always thought of it more like "It cost me 400 to make my console, I sell it for 300, but if they buy 10 games and I get 10 dollars each I break even. They buy more I make money"

          I thought it was always THAT simple and you don't need to think about anything longer term than that - because anything a

      • Indeed. And still I have to wonder why Sony didn't sell a processor-unlocked version which doesn't include the Sony OS at all - and charge 3, 4, or 5 times as much for the same hardware. It would have been excellent processing power for the price, and it would have made PS3 hardware itself very profitable.

        They missed a good opportunity to make a huge chunk of cash on what they sold as a loss leader.

      • by westlake (615356)

        You know how Sony lost money on every PS3 sold... but then made the costs back with like 10 dollars from every game?
        And you notice how the government bought 1,760 thousand of these things (or more) for a non-gaming purpose?
        Did you hear the firmware updates and new PS3s remove the "Other OS" option?
        Or did you think that those incidents were entirely unrelated?

        Not only that, but the PS3 cluster was undermining whatever chance Sony had of successfully marketing a high-margin commercial HPC product based on the

    • by Surt (22457)

      Probably because Sony subsidizes the sale of PS3 hardware, so this is one of the cheaper ways to buy flops.

  • that the gov't has better gear than the private sector......or maybe that's what they want us to think........
  • by Minwee (522556) <dcr@neverwhen.org> on Friday December 03, 2010 @05:46PM (#34437800) Homepage

    Previous efforts included a supercomputer made up of 1760 Wiis, but the resulting cluster had less computing power than the researchers' mobile phones and had to be abandoned.

    A second attempt at putting together a cluster of 1760 X-Boxes was scuttled when investigations showed no less than 600 of them were showing Red Rings of Doom at any given time.

    The Air Force team is confident that using PS3s is a better idea due to their size, weight, and the fact that nobody can find any games that they want to play on them anyway.

    (Are there any fanboys I haven't offended with this? I'm trying to be thorough.)

    • I love Trinity Universe, Cross Edge, and Disgaea 3, all of which are on the PS3, you insensitive clod!

      • Wow, I play a good pile of games a year.. and I've never even heard of one of those. :P
        • by Hatta (162192)

          Those are all from Nippon Ichi, a very niche publisher of very Japanese RPGs. If you like traditional turn based JRPGs with anime styling, give them a shot, they could use the business.

        • Wow, I play a good pile of games a year..

          Since you play more than one game in a year, then logically it follows that you haven't played a Nippon Ichi game.

          I kid, but I have spent probably 600 hours of my life on the mainline Disgaea games. The combo of Valkyria Chronicles and Disgaea 3 was the best reason to even have PS3 two years ago.

    • by Xtense (1075847)

      You missed PC and handheld gamers, but good effort nonetheless! 7/10

    • (Are there any fanboys I haven't offended with this? I'm trying to be thorough.)

      I'm still waiting for a 1760 node cluster of these. [amazon.com]

      • by Pharmboy (216950)

        Of course, the resulting cluster would have a combined RAM total of 14,417,920 bytes, or well under 16MB, since the MOS Technology 6507 only could access 8k. Except half the RAM is reserved for BIOS, to in reality you could access less than 8MB of RAM for the OS and applications. In other words, it might not even run Linux.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      (Are there any fanboys I haven't offended with this? I'm trying to be thorough.)

      You forgot the Sega Dreamcast, which is better than exactly two (2) of those consoles.

      (how's that for a fanboy troll? :D)

      • by morari (1080535)

        Pft. The Dreamcast is easily the most impressive console to have existed thus far. Far ahead of its time.

    • Actually, the Wii cluster was quite powerful, but the operators couldn't lift the 1760 Wiimotes glued together in order to navigate the front end menu.
    • You neglected to trash Apple. (Though I'm not sure if they even have a game console. iBox?)

      • by FreonTrip (694097)
        There was the Apple Bandai Pippin [wikipedia.org], but that horse has been dead so long - and the gawkers so long departed - that it's just a fertile spot with grass growing where the animal fell.
    • by Nemyst (1383049)
      They also tried using 1760 DSs, but most ended up being entirely used for Brain Age. The managers of the project also didn't like to know they had a brain age of over 60.

      PSPs were also thought of, but Marcus said that was so un-cool that they abandoned the idea and they were always requesting firmware updates.

      Stumbling on PCs, the hope was short-lived as the engineers couldn't decide on blue or red LEDs on the fans.

      Hopes are high now for the Atari 2600 if the PS3 does not succeed.
    • by bhcompy (1877290)
      1760 Gibsons
    • by CODiNE (27417)

      (Are there any fanboys I haven't offended with this? I'm trying to be thorough.)

      I have a Virtual Boy you insensitive clod!

  • I guess it is ok then to jailbreak these?!!??
    • by Desler (1608317)

      What's to jailbreak? These are PS3s they bought a long while ago and they wouldn't be updating the firmware since playing the latest Blu-Rays and getting on PSN isn't a high priority for this lab.

    • by yt8znu35 (1202731)
      It's OK for the gubmint, but if you modify yours then you are a danger to society.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    IANACS (I am not a computer scientist), but my father works on managing supercomputer time in the scientific community.

    He's been complaining for a while now that advanced chip design is driven by video games and graphics, and that the best chips around (on an informal, bang-for-the-buck basis) are PS3/Xbox designs. Apparently, there's more money to be made in optimizing entertainment hardware for college students than in creating useful scientific tools. It's not the end of the world, but it complicates the

  • Just imagine a beowulf cluster of those!
  • Skynet needed 25 days to become self-aware. Should we expect Slashdot entries on Christmas or shortly thereafter telling us that someone or something was born?

    Actually if Kristanna Loken comes looking for me, I'm ok with it...

  • by mewsenews (251487) on Friday December 03, 2010 @06:07PM (#34438110) Homepage

    As far as I know, they're the only console maker that has a branch of the American armed forces using their hardware for a literal supercomputer cluster, which is a stunning, resounding endorsement for the real world horsepower behind their hardware, and they've disabled the very "other OS" feature that allowed the air force to build the cluster in the first place.

    What the hell, Sony, you idiots.

    • by blair1q (305137)

      ITAR.

      If anyone could do this with Sony's currently-produced hardware, Sony would be breaking the law by shipping that hardware to anyone "International".

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        COTS products are generally not ITAR. An item can fall under ITAR when it is designed to specifically meet a US defense requirement or is built using technology or parts that are ITAR.

        • by oneiros27 (46144)

          "generally not" means nothing-- there's the 'dual use' category, which is civilian stuff that might have military applications. They've had to keep raising the definition of 'supercomputer' some of the early G4 apple powerbooks qualified.

    • Instead of charging 5x as much for a cpu-unlocked version of the same product -- earning a profit and coming in as a great deal for those who need it.
    • Since they make their money off the games sold and not the console, they will take a loss ( or at the least make almost nothing ) for every 'cluster' built. So they are idiots why?

    • by westlake (615356)

      As far as I know, they're the only console maker that has a branch of the American armed forces using their hardware for a literal supercomputer cluster, which is a stunning, resounding endorsement for the real world horsepower behind their hardware, and they've disabled the very "other OS" feature that allowed the air force to build the cluster in the first place. What the hell, Sony, you idiots

      What sells 5 million Kinect controllers before Christmas is the "I want it now!" tech that can be sold to your k

  • but an airwulf cluster... *sigh* Didn't I use this joke already a few years back?

  • Either they bought all those PS3s over 9 months ago or they are jailbroken.

    But then again it wouldn't be the worst illegal thing the government has done.

  • by Kaenneth (82978) on Friday December 03, 2010 @09:07PM (#34440078) Homepage Journal

    Is the PS3 an energy efficent solution, or is the power bill higher than it would be for a 'traditional' supercomputer?

    Not just in direct power consumption, but air conditioning costs, etc?

    I used to have a pretty powerful setup at home, 6 multicore PC's stacked up on my desk, but my current hardware is not only more efficent, I don't have to run the AC even when there is snow outside.

    I know government in particular (I used to work in a govt. budget office) has lots of accounting tricks to use. For example, we had to go through a horrible bidding process for software purchases; but I found a nice loophole of buying books that came with the software, since books could be bought directly. (also, the book+software bundle was cheaper than just the software)

  • by bball99 (232214)

    i cannot believe that IBM or other U.S. vendors instead of Sony would not have been capable of crafting such a system... quite telling, IMO

  • Imagine a Beowulf ....oh, wait

FORTRAN is for pipe stress freaks and crystallography weenies.

Working...