Friday, October 19, 2007

PS3 Gravity Grid

Wired is running an article about an Astrophysicist who has successfuly combined the power of multiple PlayStation3 units to create a computer cluster that can handle the same complex computations as a supercomputer.

Dr. Gaurav Khanna is employing his so-called "gravity grid" of PS3s to help measure these theoretical gravity waves -- ripples in space-time that travel at the speed of light -- that Einstein's Theory of Relativity predicted would emerge when such an event takes place.

The Sony PlayStation 3 has a number of unique features that make it particularly suited for scientific computation. To start with, the PS3 is an open platform, which essentially means that one can run a different system software on it, for example, PowerPC Linux. Next, it has a revolutionary processor called the Cell processor which was developed by Sony, IBM and Toshiba. This processor has a main CPU, called the PPU and several (six for the PS3) special compute engines, called SPUs available for raw computation. Moreover, each SPU performs vector operations, which implies that it can compute on multiple data, in a single step. Finally, its incredibly low cost makes it very attractive as a scientific computing node, that is part of a cluster. In fact, its highly plausible that the raw computing power per dollar that the PS3 offers, is significantly higher than anything else on the market today!
Thanks to a very generous donation by Sony, we have an eight PS3 cluster in our department, which we call PS3 Gravity Grid. Check out some pictures of the cluster here: 1) the PS3's arrive; 2) the rack arrives; 3) front view of the cluster; 4) side view of the cluster.
Looks like someone has finally found a good use for them.