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PlayStation 2 Beowulf cluster

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  • PlayStation 2 Beowulf cluster

    This is originally from . And yes, it's written by Jerkoff, but actually of some interest. I've been real big on SMP and clustering/over-the-wire processing technologies for years, and the idea of a $50,000 supercomputer is very, very appealing.

    May 26, 2003

    As perhaps the clearest evidence yet of the computing power
    of sophisticated but inexpensive video-game consoles, the
    National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the
    University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has assembled a
    supercomputer from an army of Sony PlayStation 2's.

    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

    "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.

    The impressive performance of the game machine, which has
    been on the market for a few years, underscores a radical
    shift that has taken place in the computing world since the
    end of the cold war in the late 1980's, according to the

    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."

    The scientists have their eyes on a variety of consumer
    hardware, he said. For example Nvidia, the maker of
    graphics cards for personal computers, is now selling a
    high-performance graphics card that is capable of executing
    51 billion mathematical operations a second.

    The pace of the consumer computing world is moving so
    quickly that the researchers are building the PlayStation
    2-based supercomputer as an experiment to see how quickly
    they can take advantage of off-the-shelf low-cost

    "I think we'd like to be able to transfer a lot of our
    experience to the next generation," he said.

    Despite the computing promise of game consoles that sell
    for less than $200, the researchers acknowledged that the
    experiment was likely to be most useful for a group of
    relatively narrow scientific problems.

    They added that while the system was already doing
    scientific calculations, they cannot be certain about its
    ultimate computing potential until they write more
    carefully tuned software routines that can move data in and
    out of the custom processor quickly. The limited memory of
    the Sony game console - 32 megabytes of memory - would also
    restrict the practical applications of the supercomputer,
    they said.

    But they noted that the computer was already running useful
    calculations on quantum chromodynamics, or QCD,
    simulations. QCD is a theory concerning the so-called
    strong interactions that bind elementary particles like
    quarks and gluons together to form hadrons, the
    constituents of nuclear matter.

    The ability to lower the cost of QCD simulation in itself
    would be significant, the researchers said, because such
    problems are the single largest consumer of computing
    resources on supercomputers at the Department of Energy and
    the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center.

    Still, several supercomputer experts said that the memory
    and computing bandwidth limitations of the PlayStation
    would prohibit broader applications of the machine.

    Gordon Bell, a Microsoft computer scientist and a veteran
    of the supercomputer world, said the PlayStation
    supercomputer might find its best application as a computer
    for the large digital display walls that are used by the
    Defense Department.

    Dr. Bell awards annual computing prizes that include a
    category for the best price/performance in high performance
    computing. "They should enter my contest," he said.

    The supercomputing center scientists said they had chosen
    the PlayStation 2 because Sony sells a special Linux module
    that includes a high-speed network connection and a disk

    By contrast, it is almost impossible for researchers to
    install the Linux system on Microsoft's Xbox game console.

    Using a network of machines is not a new concept in the
    supercomputing world. Linux, which plays a major role in
    that world, has been used to assemble high-performance
    parallel computers built largely out of commodity hardware
    components. These machines are generally called Beowulf

  • #2
    Re: PlayStation 2 Beowulf cluster

    Originally posted by skroo
    By contrast, it is almost impossible for researchers to install the Linux system on Microsoft's Xbox game console.
    I've heard this quite a bit, and have to wonder exactly what they mean by 'installing linux' on the xbox. Do they mean legally? Is it something technically different that is currently not offered through existing XBEs?

    How many people bringing their xbox consoles to dc11? ;)
    if it gets me nowhere, I'll go there proud; and I'm gonna go there free.