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Cell Supercomputer at Home?

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Sony's PS3 may be losing the market share war, but it has other uses. Does somebody want a supercomputer at home? That can be done by clustering PS3s running Linux. And the PS3s can still play Prince of Persia.

It's been well-known for some time that it was possible to build a powerful clustered high-performance computer using the PS3. Recently, Gaurav Khanna and Chris Poulin of the University of Massachusetts (Dartmouth) published an on-line guide to building a high-powered compute cluster using Sony's PlayStation 3, taking advantage of the Cell processor normally used during game play for graphics calculations. The setup guide leads a user through three steps:

  • Preparing the boot image and disks from easily available files
  • Installing Fedora Core 8 and the Cell SDK
  • Setting up the high-performance message-passing interface and Cell SDK

Naturally, this isn't the usual home hobbyist's computer, although there are some known home PS3 clusters. What's more important is that by using a PS3 cluster, a very small investment can provide tremendous compute power to researchers. One of the authors (Khanna) estimates that his PS3 cluster with eight consoles — which cost about $4000 — provides comparable performance to a 200-node IBM Blue Gene system. Khanna is currently using a 16-node PS3 cluster in astrophysical simulation studies in the "Gravity Grid" project.

The MPI message-passing architecture used by the cluster is also open-source and widely-used, allowing researchers to build high-performance parallelized programs for simulation, graphics rendering, and financial applications using easily-available tools for this inexpensive platform.

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