PlayStations for Physics

17Oct07

This one is dedicated to Mars, who once remarked that `a long calculation is like playing a computer game.’

Wired has a neat article about the computational research of Professor Gaurav Khanna, an astrophysicist who has put together a supercomputing cluster called the PS3 Gravity Grid. And yes, thanks to a donation by Sony, the grid actually runs on a cluster of eight PlayStation 3 video game consoles.


Fig 1. Four of the eight PlayStation 3s of the PS3 Gravity Grid. Not for grad student leisure use. Image courtesy of Prof. Khanna from the PS3 Gravity Grid page.

According to Professor Khanna, the PS3 is an ideal system for scientific supercomputing because of its `Cell processor‘ that bundles the main CPU with six `syngergistic processing units‘ that can efficiently compute data in parallel. Sony’s `open platform‘ policy allows one to install third party operating systems (such as Linux) on the PS3. At the end of the day, Khanna found that the grid of gaming consoles is still much cheaper than time on a national supercomputing facility — his eight PlayStations cost $3200, while time at an NSF facility would be around $5000 a go. That’ll make a great counter-argument when your parents say the PS3 you want for Christmas is `too expensive.’

Oh yeah, and the whole set up has geek-chic written all over it.

The Wired article also mentioned another research group interested in using the PS3s Cell processor: Folding@home, a Stanford-based peer-to-peer computational protein folding project similar to SETI@home. There’s another argument for mom-and-dad: that PS3 you want for Christmas might end up sending you to the Intel Science Talent Search. :-)

Anyway, this just goes to prove the ancient saying:

Show me a principal investigator who can effectively use a cluster of PlayStations in his research … and I’ll show you someone whose grad students willingly come back to lab in the evenings.

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3 Responses to “PlayStations for Physics”

  1. 1 hwasungmars

    This is awesome! See, I told ya!

  2. 2 evankeane

    that is very cool! i will have a work with the guys in my dept before they order the next supercomputers!

  3. Last summer I was discussing making a PS3 cluster with some astro friends, we esentially agreed that it was viable for us to buy one PS3 with our grants, put them togeher and make a small cluster for our simulations.

    And of course, when the cluster isn’t running simulations you can play Resistance:Fall of men, probably meaning the end of productivity.



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