Computer scientists construct supercompuer from game consoles:
- The resulting system, with components purchased at retail prices, cost a little more than $50,000. The center’s researchers believe the system may be capable of a half trillion operations a second, well within the definition of supercomputer, although it may not rank among the world’s 500 fastest supercomputers.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of the project, which uses the open source Linux operating system, is that the only hardware engineering involved was placing 70 of the individual game machines in a rack and plugging them together with a high-speed Hewlett-Packard network switch. The center’s scientists bought 100 machines, but are holding 30 in reserve, possibly for high-resolution display application.
“It took a lot of time because you have to cut all of these things out of the plastic packaging,” said Craig Steffen, a senior research scientist at the center, who is one of four scientists working part time on the project.
The scientists are taking advantage of a standard component of the Sony video-game console that was originally intended to move and transform pixels rapidly on a television screen to produce lifelike graphics. The chip is not the PlayStation 2’s MIPS microprocessor, but rather a graphics co-processor known as the Emotion Engine. That custom designed silicon chip is capable of producing up to 6.5 billion mathematical operations a second.
….While the most advanced computing technologies have historically been developed first for large corporate users and military contractors, increasingly the fastest computers are being developed for the consumer market and for products meant to be placed under Christmas trees.
“If you look at the economics of game platforms and the power of computing on toys, this is a long-term market trend and computing trend,” said Dan Reed, the supercomputing center’s director. “The economics are just amazing. This is going to drive the next big wave in high-performance computing.” [NY Times]
Now they need to develop games for it.