×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

How To Build a Homebrew PS3 Cluster Supercomputer

timothy posted more than 5 years ago | from the slot-a-tab-b dept.

Supercomputing 211

eldavojohn writes "UMass Dartmouth Physics Professor Gaurav Khanna and UMass Dartmouth Principal Investigator Chris Poulin have created a step-by-step guide designed to show you how to build your own supercomputer for about $4,000. They are also hoping that by publishing this guide they will bring about a new kind of software development targeting this architecture & grid (I know a few failed NLP projects of my own that could use some new hardware). If this catches on for research institutions it may increase Sony's sales, but they might not be seeing the corresponding sale of games spike (where they make the most profit)."

cancel ×
This is a preview of your comment

No Comment Title Entered

Anonymous Coward 1 minute ago

No Comment Entered

211 comments

"super" computer: (1, Interesting)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | more than 5 years ago | (#26152547)

I get a kick out of these [slashdot.org] types of articles.

Last year, Khanna's construction of a small supercomputer using eight Sony-donated Playstation 3 gaming consoles made headlines nationwide in the scientific community.

I'm not trying to be a smartass, but why did he mention in TFA that his supercomputer cost $4000 if the 8 consoles were "Sony-donated"? ALso, like the iPod example at the top of the post, most research use of the technology won't come from actual iPods or consoles but from customized versions of the underlying technology such as the Opteron-Cell hybrid Roadrunner [wikipedia.org] supercomputer. If one wanted to build their own home "super" computer then why not just use CUDA and a few Nvidia cards?

Re:"super" computer: (1)

CannonballHead (842625) | more than 5 years ago | (#26152579)

The cost for his initial Playstation grid was $4,000.

It does say that the cost was that for his grid, so that's badly written if they were donated; however, it doesn't actually say that HE paid it :)

Re:"super" computer: (1)

SIR_Taco (467460) | more than 5 years ago | (#26152927)

If one wanted to build their own home "super" computer then why not just use CUDA and a few Nvidia cards?

Not only that, but why wouldn't you just buy a shit-load of old computers from an auction or bank reclaimed assets from a sunken business? $4000 could buy a huge number of old Pentium 3s or even 4s if you know where to look.
One of the main points of a cluster is the fact that you can make up for brute per-processor speed by just having more hardware.

Re:"super" computer: (4, Informative)

afidel (530433) | more than 5 years ago | (#26153135)

Old CPU's have a much lower MIPS/Watt and a lower MIPS/interconnect so they have a higher cost. Many organizations have found it's cheaper to retire an old supercomputer and add a few nodes to the new one even if it is more capital outlay to get the same performance. Basically a Cell does many times as much useful work than a P4 at a fraction of the power budget.

Re:"super" computer: (3, Interesting)

eltaco (1311561) | more than 5 years ago | (#26154065)

see afidel's posting.
basically it comes down to the costs of having your own personal power station in the TCO to run a cluster.
this started (well, really hit it off) a few years back, when the pentium M and centrino tech became widespread. basically, to my knowledge, it was the first time you could actually have more processors with less jiggahertz, that consumed less power in total and still had more flops than the others. it swayed everyone from "more powerful cpus plz" train of thought to the "more cpus, less power-consumption". (also cpus/chips in general will eventually hit an upper barrier, making parallel computing a necessity)
I haven't checked the facts on the ps3, but seeing how much nether-region sucking is going on, ps3s probably fit into this scheme.

Re:"super" computer: (3, Informative)

lysergic.acid (845423) | more than 5 years ago | (#26154229)

it's not that simple. sure you can make up for a lack of per-CPU processing power through cluster computing, but at some point it becomes more practical or even cheaper to go with a smaller cluster using a better processor architecture.

you could use hundreds of P3s or even P4s and still not achieve the same real-world performance as a couple dozen cell processors or modern GPGPU stream processors. that's because P3s & P4s are general-purpose CPUs designed for SISD/scalar processing. they're great for the bulk of general-purpose commodity computing applications like running an OS, web browser, word processor, etc., but high-performance computing problems typically involve processing very large data sets that greatly benefit from data parallelism. so if you had two processors, one scalar and one vector, each with the same power consumption and clock rate, the vector processor would be an order of magnitude faster at performing HPC tasks than the processor with the scalar architecture.

and the combined use of parallelization at multiple levels will always be more efficient than relying solely on a single form of parallelism. blindly adding more cheap 32-bit scalar CPUs won't get you as good of results as building a smaller cluster comprised of 64-bit fully-pipelined stream processors with multithreaded superscalar cores that support VLIW. in the former case, you're only employing task-level parallelism, whereas in the later case you're taking advantage of bit-level, instruction-level (pipelining + superscalar + VLIW), data, and task-level (multiprocessing + multithreading) parallelism. you'd not only save power by using fewer (more power-efficient) processors, but you'd also reduce memory coherence & bandwidth problems, not to mention the space savings.

Re:"super" computer: (2, Interesting)

J05H (5625) | more than 5 years ago | (#26154231)

Answer: PS3s were used because of the vector processors - they are significantly faster than general purpose CPUs for some of Dr. Khanna's needs and the general vision of the project. These are chips designed for raytracing which makes them perfect for some forms of scientific processing.

Also a rack unit full of PS3s looks way cooler than some crufty old PCs pulled from a dumpster.

Josh - PS3Cluster tester

Re:"super" computer: (5, Informative)

steveha (103154) | more than 5 years ago | (#26153009)

I'm not trying to be a smartass, but why did he mention in TFA that his supercomputer cost $4000 if the 8 consoles were "Sony-donated"?

Oh come on, you are being pedantic. Clearly what he meant was "$4000 worth of consoles", never mind that they were donated. $X worth of consoles is a useful number if someone is considering buying PS3s and setting up a supercomputer; it's also a fun number to compare to the cost of renting time on some large supercomputer.

The original Wired article is informative:

http://www.wired.com/techbiz/it/news/2007/10/ps3_supercomputer [wired.com]

He asked for Sony to donate the PS3s because he didn't think the NSF would give him grant money to buy video game systems. Now that he has actually built the supercomputer and it does everything he hoped it would do, perhaps other researchers will be able to justify the money to set up their own clusters (without donations from Sony).

The numbers are a no-brainer: he used to spend $5000 to do a single simulation run using rented supercomputer time. For less than the cost of a single simulation run, you can set up your own supercomputer and make simulation runs whenever you feel like it.

ALso, like the iPod example at the top of the post, most research use of the technology won't come from actual iPods or consoles

Um, he is using actual PS3 consoles to do actual research.

If one wanted to build their own home "super" computer then why not just use CUDA and a few Nvidia cards?

If you think that is a good way to make a super computer, why don't you go ahead and do it, and make a web site explaining how it is done?

Meanwhile, he thought he had a good way to go with the PS3, and it did in fact work as he expected, so what's the problem?

Anyway, here's why he thought it was a good idea. From the above linked Wired article:

According to Rimon, the Cell processor was designed as a parallel processing device, so he's not all that surprised the research community has embraced it. "It has a general purpose processor, as well as eight additional processing cores, each of which has two processing pipelines and can process multiple numbers, all at the same time," Rimon says.

Khanna says that his gravity grid has been up and running for a little over a month now and that, crudely speaking, his eight consoles are equal to about 200 of the supercomputing nodes he used to rely on.

steveha

Re:"super" computer: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26154705)

Now that he has actually built the supercomputer and it does everything he hoped it would do, perhaps other researchers will be able to justify the money to set up their own clusters (without donations from Sony).

So what you're saying is that, thanks to this researcher's creativity and effort, computer researchers in the future may get free playstations? Sweet!

Re:"super" computer: (0)

TheKidWho (705796) | more than 5 years ago | (#26153179)

Seriously, you're better off getting a few NVIDIA Tesla cards and using CUDA then trying to get code running on the PS3...
Nevermind the fact that you can't use the GPU at all in the PS3 Linux Environment.
$4000 gets you 2 Tesla cards + 1 GPU which should push about ~2 Teraflops for optimized code.

Re:"super" computer: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26153623)

You are so right, he should have stopped everything and just started using your method. Don't worry about the time he spent setting it up and writing about it. And if something better comes along while delevoping that he should just stop and listen to all the people saying PS3s are not good.
DAMN they should just fire him and get a bunch of slashdotters to do it better. ;)
I'll be impressed when all the complainers build their supercomputers.

Re:"super" computer: (1)

ozphx (1061292) | more than 5 years ago | (#26153583)

So by "sony-donated" its "sony-still-pushing-teh-cell-is-teh-awesomes" bandwagon?

The "real" cell chip is used in "real" supercomputers - not the stripped down one with only 7 SPUs in the PS3. We're talking like 32 of the babys.

Thats how you make an efficient supercomputer - not by wiring together a bunch of toys (even if they do run *nix).

Re:"super" computer: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26154095)

You sound like a real fun guy.

step by step (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26152575)

1. Find a girl.
2. Be funny, smart, and witty. be yourself (unless you are a social retard. then see below).
3. Don't be a dick. I know they say girls like it, but its too hard for most people here to get right.
4. Be nice.
5. Humor her. Laugh at her un-funny jokes, but don't make it too obvious.
6. When the time is right, move in for the kill. Don't do it too soon or too late. This part is tricky.
7. Give her great lovin'. Teach her love the cock, but don't force it on her.

Good Luck!!!

Message from Government Man (-1, Offtopic)

girlintraining (1395911) | more than 5 years ago | (#26152585)

I am Government Man, sent from the Government. There is nothing to see here. Please move along. Pay no attention to the man being arrested behind me for disclosing how to build a supercomputer using gaming consoles and beaten by the fine men and women of the LAPD. That man is, in fact, a terrorist, conspiring against the great monied corporations of this country and placing advanced (giggle) technology into the hands of people who could use this to create a nucul--nucle--nuculu--big bad device. I am Government Man, and I thank you citizen.

Disclaimer: Exportation of supercomputers is prohibited by federal law. Some restrictions may apply. For full rules and details, visit our website at www.house.gov/apps/list/speech/wa09_smith/991027sp.html. Your computer will now self destruct in 10..9..8..

Re:Message from Government Man (1, Offtopic)

blhack (921171) | more than 5 years ago | (#26152627)

Pay no attention to the man being arrested behind me for disclosing how to build a supercomputer using gaming consoles and beaten by the fine men and women of the LAPD

Please....please go back to reddit.

Re:Message from Government Man (-1, Offtopic)

girlintraining (1395911) | more than 5 years ago | (#26152761)

Please....please go back to reddit.

You first. :P It's not my fault you didn't catch the Invader Zim reference.

Re:Message from Government Man (2, Insightful)

johanatan (1159309) | more than 5 years ago | (#26152781)

Or maybe he did catch it and thinks that sort of thing belongs on Reddit?

Re:Message from Government Man (-1, Offtopic)

girlintraining (1395911) | more than 5 years ago | (#26153081)

Or maybe he did catch it and thinks that sort of thing belongs on Reddit?

Highly doubtful. People who post comments to the effect of "but this doesn't belong on slashdot!" aren't terribly bright. If it doesn't belong here, then the moderators will rank it accordingly. Moving on...

Re:Message from Government Man (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26153143)

Luke: Your overconfidence is your weakness.

Emperor: Your faith in your moderators is yours!

Invader Zim is non-free (2, Funny)

tepples (727027) | more than 5 years ago | (#26153197)

It's not my fault you didn't catch the Invader Zim reference.

Invader Zim is non-free. It's easier to catch pop culture references if they are pre-1923 or otherwise free [freedomdefined.org] .

Re:Invader Zim is non-free 23-skidoo! (4, Funny)

hguorbray (967940) | more than 5 years ago | (#26153425)

sorry, but that's stupid -how many pop culture references from 1923 are relevant to TODAY's pop culture:

seeya snookums, me and the squeeze are the bees knees in our raccoon coats, we're gonna get jazzed up in our hupmobile on hootch and go check out Mary Astor's horse after we hit the blind pig.

I agree its unfortunate that this stuff is non free, but pre 1923 means that most talkies would be out of bounds as well -including stuff you can see on tv all the time.

I'm just sayin'

Re:Invader Zim is non-free 23-skidoo! (2, Insightful)

mollymoo (202721) | more than 5 years ago | (#26153643)

sorry, but that's stupid -how many pop culture references from 1923 are relevant to TODAY's pop culture:

A perfect illustration of the fact that copyright terms are way too long.

Re:Invader Zim is non-free 23-skidoo! (1)

hguorbray (967940) | more than 5 years ago | (#26154519)

That's not the point -relevant pop culture deals with stuff happening NOW.

'I like ike' and 'tippecanoe and tyler too' were relevant in their time -not now.

Now its about bling, blogs and obama

if you limit yourself to 50 year old culture references you are missing leet-geek-speak, hiphop/drug culture, simpsons (which is mostly culture references itself) and anything else that has been in the public consciousness for the past 40 years

not that missing some of the above would necessarily be a bad thing...but that's current pop culture.

I'm just sayin'

Oblig. OMG... (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26152589)

something to finally run Vista?

Re:Oblig. OMG... (2, Funny)

windsurfer619 (958212) | more than 5 years ago | (#26153057)

At first I laughed... But then I realized that, no, Vista won't be able to run on this.

Vista doesn't support the PowerPC architecture.

ibm (2, Interesting)

sreid (650203) | more than 5 years ago | (#26152591)

why would ibm be involved in this if it means they will sell less servers?

Re:ibm (2)

oodaloop (1229816) | more than 5 years ago | (#26152651)

FEWER servers! FEWER! Aauughhhh!

Re:ibm (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26152797)

This isn't really the place to start criticizing grammar and spelling, unless you REALLY want to live a life full of frustration and torment....?

(Though it could be worse, I suppose - you could go to digg etc. intsead...:p)

Re:ibm (1)

rhsanborn (773855) | more than 5 years ago | (#26153127)

It's showcasing the usefulness of IBM's cell processors for exactly this kind of thing. They have very good reason to be involved as it may mean that there is interest in using their processors for smaller computers at a higher volume to do modeling and research.

Re:ibm (4, Insightful)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 5 years ago | (#26153317)

IBM is probably banking on the existence of people who want Cell processors in systems with more than 256megs of RAM. Other IBM value-adds would presumably include rack mountability, support for netbooting and other convenient management stuff, and so forth.

If your application leans almost entirely on the CPU with very little need for RAM, and you have an army of screwdriver monkeys(or grad students) to do all the legwork, the PS3 is an excellent deal. If you need something with RAM capacity that wasn't a joke in 2001, and/or management features that won't have you tearing your eyes out when you have 10,000 of them, then IBM smells opportunity.

Re:ibm (1)

Enderandrew (866215) | more than 5 years ago | (#26153811)

IBM is the first company to see the writing on the wall and invest in new markets, even if those markets invalidate their current holdings. They went from a typewriter company, to a mainframe company, and an operating system company, to a PC company, to a server company, to a virtualization company, and now a SaaS company.

Subsidized Supercomputers (1)

MeanMF (631837) | more than 5 years ago | (#26152601)

Does Sony make any money on PS3 hardware sales? Last I heard they were selling them at around $100 under the cost of production.

Re:Subsidized Supercomputers (1)

Shados (741919) | more than 5 years ago | (#26152701)

I dont know about the newer models without the backward compatibility and stuff, but previously, they were definately net loss. The -last- thing Sony wants is to sell a million PS3 with 0 attach rate. Of course, those numbers would still count to impress developers, and may be a catalyst, but....

Re:Subsidized Supercomputers (4, Insightful)

timeOday (582209) | more than 5 years ago | (#26153149)

The number of PS3's sold will never be enough to hurt Sony's bottom line, but will boost the image of the console. Having credible scientists call your product a "supercomputer" is worth something. Does Ferrari's Forumla 1 racing team pay for itself? Nah, it's an investment to promote an image.

Re:Subsidized Supercomputers (1)

Bearhouse (1034238) | more than 5 years ago | (#26153665)

Does Ferrari's Forumla 1 racing team pay for itself? Nah, it's an investment to promote an image.

Most of the budget is paid for by sponsors.

Re:Subsidized Supercomputers (2, Informative)

makapuf (412290) | more than 5 years ago | (#26152741)

AGAIN, revenue of console sales is not N*const (positive or negative), but const1+N*const2 where const2 is negative (it's a gain per console) but upfront costs=const1(R&D, licences ...) are big. So the fact that the total is negative implies const is negative, but in fact it's mostly that N*const2 is still less than const1. (I hope this makes sense to some at least)

Re:Subsidized Supercomputers (1)

VinylRecords (1292374) | more than 5 years ago | (#26154323)

Some of first generation of PS3s, the 60GB, had the PS2 Emotion Engine in them to provide perfect hardware emulation for playing PS2/PS1 games making the PS3 100% backward-compatible.

The 80GB version of the PS3 saved SONY the cost of having to manufacture a PS2 essentially inside of a PS3 by replacing the hardware emulation with software emulation. The upside was cost, the downside was that many games cannot be played on a PS3 without the hardware Emotion Engine. Meaning the 80GB systems are NOT 100% backwards-compatible.

And many of the components have become cheaper to manufacture now or have been created out of more efficient and less costly parts since the PS3 first launched. But now, the PS3 ships without hardware or software emulation to play PS2/PS1 games.

The reason for this is not only to save money on initial production costs of the PS3, but it also extends the life of the PS2 greatly for those who were not able or willing to buy the backwards-compatible PS3s, but it also allows SONY and third-party developers to offer old PS1 (and eventually PS2) games for sale on the Playstation Network.

Is SONY making money on the PS3s being sold now? No. But compared to the negative cost of manufacturing a PS3 when it was first in production SONY is in much better territory but they still aren't in the black.

Awesome power! (1)

iSzabo (1392353) | more than 5 years ago | (#26152603)

This is just one of those steps towards homebrew genetic algorithms. It won't be long until someone goes "The Internet, pfft - supercomputing clusters are for porn".

but seriously.... (1)

powerspike (729889) | more than 5 years ago | (#26152617)

Most of my friends purchased a ps3 because it's the cheapest profile 2(is that what it's called?) blueray player on the market, they have 1-2 movies each, and just use it as a showcase, sony will never make cash out of them....

All this sounds like is the same thing.

Everytime i see an article like this, i feel even more sorry for the 12 people that purchased the console to play games!

Sony owns a movie studio (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 5 years ago | (#26153347)

Most of my friends purchased a ps3 because it's the cheapest profile 2(is that what it's called?) blueray player on the market, they have 1-2 movies each, and just use it as a showcase, sony will never make cash out of them....

Sony owns a movie studio. And as I understand it, Sony also owns a significant share of the patent and trade secret rights in Blu-ray Disc. But if by "Sony" you mean the PlayStation division called "Sony Computer Entertainment", you may be right.

Saddam Hussein (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26152625)

Saddam Hussein was going to do this with PS2s.

Why use PS3s? (3, Insightful)

JanusFury (452699) | more than 5 years ago | (#26152685)

Why would you want to use PS3s for a homebrew supercomputing cluster if it means you have to write and optimize code for the SPEs to get benefit out of it? The PS3's linux environment doesn't let you utilize the GPU or all of the built-in SPEs and it doesn't have a lot of RAM available either. It seems like it would be cheaper to build a cluster out of commodity PC parts, and maybe use GPUs+CUDA to get more muscle without having to completely hand-roll your own accelerated computation code (since CUDA is roughly C). I can't imagine that the PS3 would end up cheaper for these purposes, considering it includes a Blu-Ray player along with a bunch of other things you're not going to be using.

Re:Why use PS3s? (1)

Darkness404 (1287218) | more than 5 years ago | (#26152861)

....About the cheapest computer you can build/buy that would be of any use as a supercomputer would be $200, add in a $150 GPU, and thats $350, about the price of a used PS3. Most supercomputers need fast CPUs, not a ton of RAM (though, the more RAM the better), and so it becomes that a PS3 is about the same as doing it with commodity computers only the PS3 has a much faster CPU.

Re:Why use PS3s? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26153101)

Wrong. Ram to processing power is really application dependent, and they tend to scale linearly together for most applications. It's a big part of designing supercomputer specs.

Re:Why use PS3s? (1)

JDevers (83155) | more than 5 years ago | (#26153303)

Well, that is all true except most simulations eat a ton of RAM (we aren't comparing 20 GB to 25GB here, the PS3 has 256MB of memory) and the PS3 does NOT have a faster CPU. If you think it does, look at the folding@home stats for a PS3 versus a mid/high end GPU. The GPUs are really what are interesting here, the main CPUs of both systems are slow enough to make them of no interest when only talking 8-20 units...

From the folding@home Wiki:
as of August 24, 2008, GPU clients accounted for the majority of entire project's throughputâ"over 1.8 petaFLOPs of computational powerâ"at an approximate ratio of 9 clients per teraFLOP

On April 26, 2007, Sony released a new version of Folding@home which improved folding performance drastically, such that the updated PS3 clients produced 1500 teraFLOPS with 52,000 clients versus the previous 400 teraFLOPS by around 24,000 clients.[22] Lately, the console accounts for around 40% of all teraFLOPS at an approximate ratio of 35½ PS3 clients per teraFLOPS.

So using those numbers, the PS3 is about a fourth as powerful as the average GPU running folding@home, and of course we know that the average GPU isn't nearly as fast as the fastest available.

Re:Why use PS3s? (2, Interesting)

afidel (530433) | more than 5 years ago | (#26153365)

The best MIPS/watt for CUDA is probably either the 9600 GSO or the GTX280 depending on whether you're memory or processor constrained. The 9600 can be had for about $75 for 768MB variety (forget the 512/1024 parts they much lower performing) and has 96 stream processors running at up to 650Mhz. The GTX280 costs about $400 and has 240 650Mhz stream processors (though I believe they might be slightly more advanced then the ones on the 9600 I'm not sure how much of that is exposed by CUDA). Power usage is 46W peak for the 9600 and 180W for the GTX280.

Re:Why use PS3s? (4, Informative)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 5 years ago | (#26152875)

Why would you want to use PS3s for a homebrew supercomputing cluster if it means you have to write and optimize code for the SPEs to get benefit out of it? The PS3's linux environment doesn't let you utilize the GPU or all of the built-in SPEs and it doesn't have a lot of RAM available either.

Well, I'll bite; if the cell is the fastest processor for your workload, the PS3 is the cheapest way to get one, even at only six usable SPEs and no GPU. Doesn't the PS3 have GigE? That's plenty fast enough to shovel data in and out of the system.

Re:Why use PS3s? (1)

Chandon Seldon (43083) | more than 5 years ago | (#26153647)

Well, I'll bite; if the cell is the fastest processor for your workload, the PS3 is the cheapest way to get one, even at only six usable SPEs and no GPU. Doesn't the PS3 have GigE? That's plenty fast enough to shovel data in and out of the system.

What workload is actually faster on a Cell than on a modern quad-core CPU or video card? I mean - it's possible that such a workload exists, but the niche between a general purpose CPU and the hundreds of FPUs in a video card has got to be pretty damn small.

Re:Why use PS3s? (3, Interesting)

ookabooka (731013) | more than 5 years ago | (#26153001)

If I recall correctly, Sony sells hardware either at-cost or at a slight loss because they make their money on the games. I know this was true for the original xbox as modded xbox clusters were demoed as extremely cost efficient compared to making the computers yourself. I used a moded xbox as an early TiVO as it was way cheaper than making a similar setup myself.

Re:Why use PS3s? (1)

rm999 (775449) | more than 5 years ago | (#26153451)

Yeah, but a large part of the cost is the bluray player, which is useless in a supercomputer. I guess you could probably sell the drive/laser for 100 bucks to offset your costs.

Re:Why use PS3s? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26153855)

Yeah, but a large part of the cost is the bluray player, which is useless in a supercomputer. I guess you could probably sell the drive/laser for 100 bucks to offset your costs.

You could be right that a large part of the cost won't be used by a supercomputer setup, but is the BR player still a large part of the cost?

If you break it down, the only real big difference with DVD is the laser, other than that it probably has a lot of parts comparable with an internal DVD drive.

When you see that stand-alones are going towards $160 (perhaps even lower as I write) and I assume they are not sold at a loss, how much can the internal drive really cost?

http://news.cnet.com/8301-13845_3-10125666-58.html

Don't forget a stand-alone comes with PSU, hardware to decode everything, connectors and chassis, you still think you can get $100 for the drive in the PS3?

Re:Why use PS3s? (1)

Jeff DeMaagd (2015) | more than 5 years ago | (#26153229)

The Blu-Ray drive and the controller are the only things in the system you won't really use, at least much. The rest of the system is a computer, even if it is an unusual architecture. I don't know if the system can install an OS over a USB drive or CF card vs. optical disc, I've never tried to install Linux.

I'd say it's a very powerful computer for $400, assuming you can program for it.

Re:Why use PS3s? (5, Informative)

ASBands (1087159) | more than 5 years ago | (#26153267)

since CUDA is roughly C

Not quite. CUDA looks a lot like C in that it has C-family syntax but the biggest limitation it has is that there is no application stack - which means no recursion. CUDA also lacks the idea of a pointer, although you can bypass this by doing number to address translation (as in, the number 78 means look up tex2D(tex, 0.7, 0.8)). The GPU also has other shortcomings, in that most architectures like to have all their shaders running the same instruction at the same time. For this code

if (pixel.r < pixel.g){
//do stuff A
}else if (pixel.g < pixel.b){
//do stuff B
}else{
//do stuff C
}

The GPU will slow down a ton if the pixel color causes different pixels to branch in different directions. Basically, the three sets of shaders following different branches of that code will be inactive 2/3 of the time.

In the Cell, you really do just program in C with a number of extensions added onto it like the SPE SIMD intrinsics and the DMA transfer commands (check it out [ibm.com] ). The Cell really is 9 (10 logical) processors all working together in a single chip (except in PS3, where there are only 7 working SPEs). Furthermore, your 8 SPEs can be running completely different programs -- they're just little processors. Granted, you have to be smart when you program them to deal with race conditions and all the other crap you have to deal with for multithreaded programming. The Cell takes about 14 times longer to calculate a double precision floating point than a single (and there aren't SPE commands to do four at once like you can with singles).

So which is more powerful? It really depends what you're doing. If your task is ridiculously parallellizable and doesn't require the use of recursion, pointers or multiple branches, the GPU is most likely your best bet. If your program falls into any of those categories, use a Cell.

Re:Why use PS3s? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26153905)

Hear, hear.

Just one little note, I assume they are running the "stock" version and that means another SPU is lost as it is occupied by the hypervisor.

So, on a PS3 you can play with 6 SPUs under Linux.

Re:Why use PS3s? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26153361)

Second...RAM is usually the limiting factor when it comes to fast simulations and calculations.

Re:Why use PS3s? (1)

kramulous (977841) | more than 5 years ago | (#26153389)

Not that I am, but if I was some home/small business artist/modeller who needed some serious render time to generate the frames of a computer animated movie/demo, I'd be making one of these clusters ... It would be perfect for this kind of thing.

Re:Why use PS3s? (1)

afidel (530433) | more than 5 years ago | (#26153449)

Nope, not nearly enough ram for even a moderately complex scene's geometry let alone the textures unless you want your output looking like a game (IE most graphic artists will want photorealistic output which is more than a game console is capable of).

Re:Why use PS3s? (1)

J05H (5625) | more than 5 years ago | (#26154691)

Depends on the specific code - to my knowledge no one has written/ported a 3d renderer to the PS3Cluster architecture yet - so you should get to work on it. 8) To get realistic textures does require a lot of RAM or a lot of swapping. One thing that could help in this context is to have a big block of NAS on the same network - and treat part of it as a RAM disk or texture buffer. Not necessarily efficient but could work following any of several weird render schemes.

I only suggest the block of external storage because I know that is part of Dr. Khanna's setup and it works.

Josh

Re:Why use PS3s? (1)

J05H (5625) | more than 5 years ago | (#26154415)

When I installed linux+MPI on the test PS3 it recognized all the processors - pretty cool seeing 8 little penguins pop up. From what Chris said the programming is fairly generic C/C++ to utilize the whole console. It's apparently not that hard and PS3s are dirt cheap (compared to supercomputers or even blade servers).

Josh

Pretty much useless (-1, Troll)

melted (227442) | more than 5 years ago | (#26152687)

Pretty much useless, unless they figure out a way to expand RAM. 8-16GB of RAM would boost the number of things you could use this for tremendously. Funny they should mention NLP. NLP tasks typically deal with very large datasets. You ain't gonna be able to do much if you can only allocate less than 50 megs per core.

Re:Pretty much useless (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26153099)

A supercomputer node (in this case a PS3) handles a small portion of a much larger problem and do not require much RAM or a Blu-ray drive for that matter...

Re:Pretty much useless (5, Interesting)

blind biker (1066130) | more than 5 years ago | (#26153233)

How is it useless, when the guy who built it, used it already for a month? And it has replaced 200 supercomputer nodes, for his purpose? I'd say that's very fucking useful.

But you know what, maybe you should send him an e-mail and try to convince him how his cluster is useless. Make it a nice, insightful and intelligent e-mail, like your post.

Why PS3s? (2, Interesting)

whyloginwhysubscribe (993688) | more than 5 years ago | (#26152707)

I don't understand why this isn't possible with normal PC hardware - what is special about the PS3 - or is it just because it is better value for money?

Re:Why PS3s? (5, Informative)

Darkness404 (1287218) | more than 5 years ago | (#26152959)

A) Although the cell is a pain to code for, it is much better than whatever PC you can get for ~$400 which will probably contain a mid-to-low-range dual core x86 CPU, whereas the PS3 gives you a Cell CPU which is much, much, faster than the x86 CPU.

B) PS3s are uniform. Other than HD differences, a PS3 built in 2008 will be the same PS3 built in 2012 (assuming the PS3 lasts that long) this allows for a uniform cluster without worrying about differing parts (for example, the Core i7 built in 2008 will not be the same as the Core i7 built in 2012 and getting a 2008 Core i7 is going to be a pain)

C) PS3s are the new fad. It isn't going to be hard to set up a supercomputer cluster with PS3s compared to using a mismatch of older computers because again, the PS3 is uniform.

have you ever tried installing linux on ps3? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26152755)

slow as hell! Makes installing GTA4 for the first time look like a speedster

What about those junk PIIs? (1)

bogaboga (793279) | more than 5 years ago | (#26152759)

I wonder whether this how-to will enable me build a cluster consisting of PIIs. I have 11 lying around.

Re:What about those junk PIIs? (1)

armanox (826486) | more than 5 years ago | (#26153271)

Yes and no. The concepts are the same, but I'd use a more lightweight distrobution then Fedora to do it on P3's (I've got a stack of P3 1GHz laying around too)

Limited use (4, Insightful)

idiot900 (166952) | more than 5 years ago | (#26152765)

Couple issues with this as an alternative to the garden-variety x86 cluster connected with InfiniBand:

Slow network interconnect. For problems that are not trivially parallel, network latency is usually a big deal. Ethernet doesn't cut it.
Lack of RAM. 'Nuff said.
Have to care about Cell and PS3 architecture. The codes ("codes" has a slightly different meaning in the context of supercomputing) have to be modified to take advantage of this very specific architecture. Software always outlives hardware, so in the long run the effort may not be worth it.

That said, it's really cheap. If your application isn't held back too much by these issues then enjoy your insanely cheap cluster!

Re:Limited use (1)

hairyfeet (841228) | more than 5 years ago | (#26153437)

I don't see why it is even considered cheap when you can pick up Dual core kits [tigerdirect.com] for $200. And since x86 has been around forever you know you'll be able to run your code years from now. So if I wanted a cluster for cheap I would just pick up some of these along with some CUDA capable PCIe cards(which are going down in price as Nvidia and AMD have it out) and be good to go.

Re:Limited use (1)

thaig (415462) | more than 5 years ago | (#26153897)

If you are writing code that only works on x86 then there's a problem straight away.

The code should also probably be written using some library that abstracts some of the details so it should be possible to change hardware at some point.

Then all that matters is whether or not the design of the machine fits the problem. PCs just might not do it.

Re:Limited use (1)

thaig (415462) | more than 5 years ago | (#26153967)

Well there are 7 SPEs on a chip right? So the latency right there must be pretty low?

His problem probably *is* "trivially" parallel so perhaps he was right to do what he did?

Later he can "upgrade" to an IBM PowerXCell 8i based blade.

Imagine a beowulf cluster.. (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26152953)

Imagine a beowulf cluster of those!

Re:Imagine a beowulf cluster.. (1)

Arthur Grumbine (1086397) | more than 5 years ago | (#26153945)

Imagine the ratio of expense of "one" of these to a beowulf cluster of x86s created to provide equivalent computing power. Just imagine!! Hmmm...on second thought it's probably only like 1 to 2.5 or 3...

Might (1)

CopaceticOpus (965603) | more than 5 years ago | (#26153007)

If this catches on for research institutions it may increase Sony's sales, but they might not be seeing the corresponding sale of games spike...

Why "might not"? Are you implying that people may be building PS3 clusters just so that they can sneak into the lab at night and have big gaming parties? Because I can totally see that.

a 2008 supercomputer is 100 teraflops (1)

peter303 (12292) | more than 5 years ago | (#26153017)

At any given time a supercomputer is one order of magnitude world fastest computers. This may have been a Year 2000 supercomputer, but far from one now.

Re:a 2008 supercomputer is 100 teraflops (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26153591)

And a 2000 computer can still run Starcraft at full specs; I'm sure a 2000 computer is still useful for supercomputing and analysing large datasets. We still have problems in medium-sized datasets that need someone working on them, and if they can do it for $4000 initial + power and get as many runs as they like, they're gonna get a lot more research done on a lot less dollar than at $5000 a run. Hell, we have NEW data since 2000, for NEW problems, that'd be a cinch to crunch on a true blue 2008 supercomputer, but the timesharing is an unbelievable weight on their workload - they don't have time to deal with datasets in the millions, they're working on trillionfold datasets, if not higher. Cheap massively-parallel ("super") computing can only be a good thing.

Even if it does help Sony's profit margins a little.

Supercluster is a better word (1)

Renegade Iconoclast (1415775) | more than 5 years ago | (#26153329)

After reading TFA, and as a multithreaded software application writer, I don't really care for the word supercomputer to describe this setup.

Sure, it's a supercomputer, if you write a bunch of sophisticated software to use the Cell model of parallelism. I admit ignorance about the Cell model, but I do know that parallelism doesn't come completely free, no matter what the architecture.

I was hoping for a build-it-yourself machine with a whole bunch of cores and a fast bus between them, like a PC, so that you could just write your own threads, and have them assigned by the operating system.

Hell, you could daisy chain Amigas together 20 years ago, and make a render farm with them. Render farms are fairly easily subdivided, because you can just give each node a part of the frame to render. In other words, the task is easily subdivided.

What if you want to beat Kasparov at chess, though? How do you subdivide chess in a way that helps, more than it hurts, if the machines are terribly slow at sharing memory?

The solution is non-obvious, if you spend a bit of time thinking about it, and definitely non trivial.

Universities will have plenty of grad students that can make something like this work, but a hobbyist would be bound to come away disappointed, if they thought this would solve all of their problems on the road to world domination.

Hell, we have supercomputers on our desks now. More CPUs won't make them faster, unless we software writers take advantage of the multiple cpus most of us already have!

What is up with the article banner text color? (1)

davidsyes (765062) | more than 5 years ago | (#26153411)

You know, it's "NOT NICE to fool Mother Nature..."

My eyes saw:

"Technology: How To Build a Homebrew PS3 Cluster Supercomputer"

"Technology: How To Build a Hebrew PS3 Cluster Supercomputer"

If i wait about 10 seconds and then move my mouse or highlight the text i eventally can read it, but something weird is going on. It's in Firefox AND in Opera...

Re:What is up with the article banner text color? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26153615)

The banner is wonky for me in Opera but not in firefox.

AFRL did it already (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26153593)

AFRL built a system early this year with 300 PS3s.

https://www.fbo.gov/index?s=opportunity&mode=form&id=3c9d2849f07a72c7aeca93af2fea0c85&tab=core&_cview=1

I saw a presentation from them on this system at HPEC.

Invited: Case Studies Optimizing Applications for a 50 TFLOPS Cluster of PS3s
Richard Linderman / AFRL
Electronic files not available

At: http://www.ll.mit.edu/HPEC/agendas/proc08/agenda.html

Awesome results.

Why doesn't Sony make it ? (1)

zomniac (1398289) | more than 5 years ago | (#26153609)

I betcha there's enough talent out there to make a small desktop unit. An affordable, out of box, mass produced Sony supercomputer.
Is it possible ? It was done with calculators.

BTW, I still have a sliderule in my desk drawer for some reason.

Re:Why doesn't Sony make it ? (2)

Malekin (1079147) | more than 5 years ago | (#26154195)

I betcha there's enough talent out there to make a small desktop unit. An affordable, out of box, mass produced Sony supercomputer./p>

I think Sony feels that's exactly what the PS3 is.

Power and maintenance? (3, Interesting)

lemaymd (801076) | more than 5 years ago | (#26153625)

Researchers pay not only for the initial capital outlay required to install a supercomputer, but also for its power, cooling, the building it resides in, and its maintenance. This PS3 cluster might be cheap from the researchers' standpoint if they don't pay for any of these things directly, but I imagine their departments won't be real thrilled if a bunch of researchers start building their own individual "cheap" supercomputers! Those issues aside, it sounds like they're doing pretty cool stuff with those machines, so maybe more supercomputers should be cell-based!

Re:Power and maintenance? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26153827)

Researchers pay not only for the initial capital outlay required to install a supercomputer, but also for its power, cooling, the building it resides in, and its maintenance.

Someone noted that "AFRL did it already". While doing it, they noted and were able to take advantage of:
1) low power consumption compared to a typical 1U unit (or desktop PC) used in clusters. Very low draw when in idle mode.
2) low heat output, and engineered to be tolerant of warm/hot environments found in typical users' homes.
3) low maintenance, with a consumer system designed for low MTBF, and easily/cheaply swapped out if a unit is a lemon.

The AFRL lead investigator also noted that a PS3 ain't the end all/be all. Given the lack of ram, "his" cluster was set to spawn off specific types of processing that a Cell CPU with middling ram could do a good job on, to get a good FLOP/$ ratio. The AFRL cluster mixes in a number of x86 1U systems as job masters.

What a ripoff! (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26153735)

What a complete farce! Here I was all excited to go see this PS3 cluster "guide". From TFA:

"Found at www.ps3cluster.org, the resource fully illustrates how to create a fully functioning and high performance supercomputer with the Sony Playstation 3."

And what is actually *on* the site?? How to install Linux on a PS3 (as if there weren't any guides for that out there already). Then, they show the magical touch where they download the stock Fedora Open MPI implementation, and configure it using all *TWO THREADS* of the Power PC unit.

No mention that Open MPI doesn't even utilize the synergistic processors on the Cell. No benchmarks. Nada. They can boot Linux, and run a networked application that has absolutely NOTHING to do with the CELL architecture itself.

From the site: "One of the authors (Khanna) estimates that his MPI computations run much faster than on desktop workstation chipsets, and that his original 8 PS3 (i.e. 64 core) Cell cluster had comparable if not better performance to a 200 Node IBM Blue Gene system."

B.S. (And I am being generous.) Their MPI isn't using any 64 processors (when there are actually only 56 available cores for use on the PS3). His data sets may run about as fast as they would on 8 older Apple laptops, but there is no way they're anywhere near a Blue Gene. My tax dollars had better not have been used to fund this "research"....

Re:What a ripoff! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26154307)

It's not cheap, but there's a book on programming the cell processor here [amazon.com] .

It doesn't discuss MPI, but it describes IBM's Accelerated Library Framework (ALF), which is a similar methodology of development and deployment.

ATTN: SHOEBOY (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26153807)

vlad farted

Games (2, Funny)

daybot (911557) | more than 5 years ago | (#26154435)

If this catches on for research institutions it may increase Sony's sales, but they might not be seeing the corresponding sale of games spike

Come on - that's the whole point. This is what you'll need to run the PS3 version of Crysis!

Load More Comments
Slashdot Account

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?

Don't worry, we never post anything without your permission.

Submission Text Formatting Tips

We support a small subset of HTML, namely these tags:

  • b
  • i
  • p
  • br
  • a
  • ol
  • ul
  • li
  • dl
  • dt
  • dd
  • em
  • strong
  • tt
  • blockquote
  • div
  • quote
  • ecode

"ecode" can be used for code snippets, for example:

<ecode>    while(1) { do_something(); } </ecode>
Sign up for Slashdot Newsletters
Create a Slashdot Account

Loading...