PS3 Put to Work by UMass, Air Force Researchers

By Aaron Linde, Mar 05, 2008 3:30pm PST The PlayStation 3's beefy Cell processor is being used in new supercomputing research projects by the University of Massachusetts and the US Air Force.

Using a cluster of sixteen stock PlayStation 3s partially donated by Sony, researchers at the University of Massachusetts physics department are employing the Cell processor to research the possible effects on space and time after two black holes merge.

Developed by Toshiba, IBM and Sony, the Cell processor was designed with collaborative computing in mind, with many possible applications using multiple Cell processors in tandem.

Referred to as the "PlayStation 3 Gravity Grid," researchers suggest that the cluster of PlayStation 3s may actually offer a higher computing performance to dollar ratio than any other commercial product available on the market.

Moreover, Hushed Casket is reporting that the US Air Force Research Laboratory has purchased 300 PlayStation 3 consoles for research utilizing the Cell processor. According to a US military presolicitation notice, the consoles will be used to "[conduct] a technology assessment of certain cell processors."

The notice goes on to suggest that the processors in the PS3 are the only affordable Cell processors available at an acceptable cost.

The distributed computing power of the PS3's cell processor has already been exploited by Stanford University's Folding@Home program, which uses the raw computing power of PS3 systems across the globe to study protein folding, problems with which are believed to cause Alzheimer's, cystic fibrosis, numerous cancers, and other diseases

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