You gotta tip your hat to the clever folks in the U.S. Air Force. Rather than laying out the big bucks for a traditional supercomputing set-up, they’re cobbling together one on the cheap, using Sony Playstation 3s --over 2,500 of them.
According to a solicitation notice found on the Internet, the Air Force plans to purchase 2,200 PS3s equipped with 256 MB of memory and 160 GB hard drives. The PS3 is the Air Force’s choice because it provides the best cost-benefit ratio : “With respect to cell processors, a single 1U server configured with two 3.2GHz cell processors can cost up to $8K while two Sony PS3s cost approximately $600. Though a single 3.2 GHz cell processor can deliver over 200 GFLOPS, whereas the Sony PS3 configuration delivers approximately 150 GFLOPS, the approximately tenfold cost difference per GFLOP makes the Sony PS3 the only viable technology for HPC applications.”
These new PS3s will be added to an existing configuration of 336 units, with all connected via each unit’s one gigabit Ethernet port to common 24 port gigabit hubs. The networked PS3s will be driven by Linux using both commercial and in-house developed software.
Ars Technica notes the PS3’s advantage comes from Sony’s subsidy of the price. Sony expects to make up the subsidy on the back-end, from game or TV purchases. While the Air Force probably won’t be in the market for such things, it definitely is happy to take advantage of Sony’s largess in console pricing.
Image Credit: Sony, U.S. Air Force