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Thread: Build a supercomputer from 8 PS3's

  1. #1
    Super Moderator and PHILanthropist Extraordinaire Phil Fiord's Avatar
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    Default Build a supercomputer from 8 PS3's

    Now, this has got to be the coolest tech thing I've seen in a while. One can take 8 PS3's and make a supercomputer that tops the mainframes currently in use. Thank you Sony!

    October 29th, 2007

    Build an 8 PS3 supercomputer

    Posted by Robin Harris @ 2:40 pm Categories: Infrastructure, Clusters, Software Tags: Supercomputer, Sony PlayStation 3, Cell, Khanna, Processors, Semiconductors, Hardware, Components, Robin Harris

    Less than a 10th the cost per GFlop of the $2500 supercomputer
    Take 8 PS 3 consoles, Yellow Dog Linux, a Gigabit Ethernet switch and your favorite protein folding or gravitational wave modeling codes and you’re doing real science. On a Playstation!

    Try playing Ratchet & Clank on a Cray
    Most scientific computing is done on cluster computers. Blue Gene/L, the world’s fastest supercomputer, uses 130,000 processors. Plus a lot of money, power and cooling.

    At about $4 per billion of floating point operations (GFlops) the PS3 is the cheapest supercomputer building block available today.

    Look under the hood
    The PS3’s Cell Broadband Engine processor, or Cell, is a heterogenous multiprocessor. Instead of identical cores - like the Intel and AMD multi-core processors - the Cell consists of a 64bit PowerPC core and 8 “synergistic co-processor elements” (SPEs).

    Each SPE has 256 KB local store, a memory controller and a “synergistic processing unit” (SPU) with a Single Instruction, Multiple Data processing unit and 128 registers of 128 bits each. They’re connected by a bus with an internal bandwidth of more than 300 GB/s that transfers data between the SPEs.

    The bottom line: you can go to Toys-R-Us and toss 200 GFlops into your shopping cart.

    Sony, your friendly supercomputer vendor
    Sony generously donated 8 PS3 consoles to Professor Gaurav Khanna of the University of Massachusetts for his research on black holes and quantum cosmology.

    This is a graphic of one black hole spiraling into another. It is representative of the problems Prof. Khanna is analyzing.

    Doing a run on a conventional supercomputer cost him about $5,000 in grant money. For less than that he could have built the PS3 cluster and run anything he wanted. But Sony saved him even that trouble by donating the equipment.

    This is serious stuff, right? So it has to be rack mounted. But the PS3 is so tiny:

    [photo courtesy of Prof. Khanna]

    Do real work on a Playstation cluster
    Go to Terrasoft to get PowerPC Linux that runs on the PS3’s . Go to IBM for version 3.0 of the developers kit.

    Pick up a SCOP3, A Rough Guide to Scientific Computing On the PlayStation 3 by a team from the University of Tennessee that includes Jack Dongarra, longtime publisher of the Top 500 supercomputer list.

    Get the MIT lecture notes from the Cell programming course.
    Interested in ray tracing? Check out Ray Tracing on the Cell Processor (pdf) by Carsten Benthin, Ingo Wald, Michael Scherbaum andHeiko Friedrich. Note: if you don’t already understand the math behind ray tracing you’ll be lost in this highly technical paper.

    Protein folding
    Your standalone PS3 can be part of a supercomputer project even if you don’t build it yourself. Stanford’s Folding@home protein-folding research can use your PS3’s cycles to help understand the causes of Alzheimer’s and many other diseases. Help save the *real* world.

    The Storage Bits take
    A single Cell processor is roughly equivalent to 25 nodes on Blue Gene/L. While there are a number of architectural limitations to the Cell and the PS3 that limit its general applicability, it enables researchers to apply an incredible number of cycles to certain classes of problem. And Sony, IBM and Toshiba are hard at work on the next generation of the Cell.
    On StorageMojo I’ve often addressed the consumerization of IT. The PS3 represents the consumerization of supercomputing. That will benefit us all.

    Comments welcome, of course.

  2. #2
    Super Moderator and PHILanthropist Extraordinaire Phil Fiord's Avatar
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    Default Re: Build a supercomputer from 8 PS3's

    My fascination here is the tech inside and what it can mean for future computing as far as processing. I am not going to run right out and buy 8 of them to see, as for me the cool effect is there, but the useful one is not for my general use at this time. Could be useful in ferreting out Titor theories, maybe?

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