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Air Force Supercomputer Made From PS3's

samzenpus posted more than 3 years ago | from the sum-of-its-parts dept.

The Military 212

The Air Force's Research Lab in Rome, NY. has one of the cheapest supercomputers ever made, and best of all over 3,000 of your friends can play Tekken on it. The computer is made from 1,716 PlayStation 3s linked together, and is used to process images from spy planes. From the article: "The Air Force calls the souped-up PlayStations the Condor Supercomputer and says it is among the 40 fastest computers in the world. The Condor went online late last year, and it will likely change the way the Air Force and the Air National Guard watch things on the ground." We covered this story back in December when the Condor first went online.

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212 comments

old news is old (5, Informative)

drkamil (1242294) | more than 3 years ago | (#35594652)

we already know this, and we already discussed it AGAIN when sony deactivated the otheros option...

Re:old news is old (1)

TavisJohn (961472) | more than 3 years ago | (#35595116)

I almost expected the US Military to sue Sony for killing "Other OS" because of this.

"We only purchased the machines to use the "Other OS" option. Now that you killed it, the consoles are useless to us."

Re:old news is old (1, Interesting)

Kryptonian Jor-El (970056) | more than 3 years ago | (#35595404)

Well, the current set up is fine. However if the Air Force wanted to replace broken PS3s or even expand the cluster, they couldn't. They could argue about Sony ruining their future scalability of their cluster due to the removal of OtherOS.

So what's new? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35594664)

We covered this story back in December when the Condor first went online.

And ... what's changed?

Re:So what's new? (1)

eonlabs (921625) | more than 3 years ago | (#35595164)

The anniversary of the removal of the install other os option is this week. It's also been a little over a year since I've purchased anything from sony. Other than that, not much.

Upgrades. (5, Funny)

Master Moose (1243274) | more than 3 years ago | (#35594666)

Watch out for that next firmware update!

Re:Upgrades. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35594686)

No kidding. I suppose they have a special license from Sony to be doing this?

Re:Upgrades. (1)

sribe (304414) | more than 3 years ago | (#35594912)

No kidding. I suppose they have a special license from Sony to be doing this?

No, they're as screwed as anybody else if they allow the firmware update. And I believe (though I'm not 100% sure) that I read that they're joining the class action lawsuit against Sony. (You know you've made a bad decision when it results in being sued by the US government! OK, well, *I* would know it--not so sure about the flaming fucktards running Sony right now...)

Re:Upgrades. (0)

mug funky (910186) | more than 3 years ago | (#35595092)

what's the US govt gonna due? transfer some of their debt to them?

Re:Upgrades. (3, Interesting)

jelizondo (183861) | more than 3 years ago | (#35595360)

Oh no, no suing. Air Force gentlemen are much more devious...

In the next firmware update, the Air Force bombs Tokyo instead of Libya and blame it on Sony!

See what Sony can do against that

Re:Upgrades. (2)

dicobalt (1536225) | more than 3 years ago | (#35594832)

I would worry more about Sony lawyers. They have got to be salivating at the Air Force's bankroll and trying to come up with a reason to sue.

Re:Upgrades. (4, Informative)

sribe (304414) | more than 3 years ago | (#35594924)

I would worry more about Sony lawyers. They have got to be salivating at the Air Force's bankroll and trying to come up with a reason to sue.

I don't think you're kidding, but OMG, I nearly fell out of my chair laughing when I read that. Seriously, unless they're delusional psychopaths[1], they're not salivating, they're shitting their pants at the thought of being sued by the Air Force. You don't sell something to the US government with certain advertised capabilities, then take away those capabilities, then sue the US government for using them. Instead, you get sued by the US government until you beg for mercy.

[1] This is a possibility.

Re:Upgrades. (3, Insightful)

inflex (123318) | more than 3 years ago | (#35594974)

No, I think salivating is right - because it'll mean a very long, protracted law suit likely - which means a lot of billable hours and at a higher rate because after all, they're not just dealing with anyone, they're handling the US Govt (realistic or not). Win or lose, it doesn't matter.

Re:Upgrades. (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35595416)

I have to agree with GP here. I can't imagine very many things less pleasant for a lawyer than standing up and explaining to the jury that the feature was disabled because of the evil haxxorz abusing it....

And then having an air force general take the stand (in uniform) to testify as to how that very same feature is being used to defeat al-qaeda by the brave men and women of the US armed forces.....

Not updating over internet (1)

perpenso (1613749) | more than 3 years ago | (#35595054)

... You don't sell something to the US government with certain advertised capabilities, then take away those capabilities, then sue the US government for using them ...

The Air Force is probably not connecting to the internet and getting firmware updates from Sony.

Re:Upgrades. (5, Insightful)

Bacon Bits (926911) | more than 3 years ago | (#35594962)

Yes, that's the wise thing to do. Pick on the customer who not only has more lawyers, who not only has special laws which apply to their behavior as a defense organization, who not only has more money than Sony, but who also has more friends in Congress.

If you're the 9th grade bully you don't go picking on the 12th grade wrestling star who's the son of the Principal. Pick battles you can win.

The wise thing to do is to produce a new SKU of the PS3 designed for distributed computing and development which allows the Other OS option and has a special SDK but, for example, can't join PSN (and perhaps cannot even play PS3 games) or which uses a special PSN for this purpose. Then you no have a way to sell these devices to your customers and you can increase the price per unit because you can no longer expect to recoup your losses on game software purchases. Indeed, all you should need to do is put in an option that lets you enable a distributed computing mode. Perhaps entering a software key which the bootstrap firmware will recognize. Then it's just a matter of selling a site license software key. You don't even need a truly different SKU.

"But people will hack it!" Like they already have? This way you get paid for legitimate people to use your product as they wish. You do what you can to prevent loss from hacking and the like, but it's not a valid excuse for not selling what people are demanding from you. The secret of capitalism is to give people what they want at a price they will pay, not to punish them for doing something you didn't expect.

Re:Upgrades. (1)

dakameleon (1126377) | more than 3 years ago | (#35595052)

Surely IBM sells "computers" based on the Cell processor? I assume all this demand is because it was available as cheap commodity hardware more than anything that gears a PS3 to being a speciality clustered supercomputer.

Re:Upgrades. (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35595130)

bladecenter qs22 starts at $9995 for two processor 3.2 ghz.

Granted nobody is supposed to pay MSRP but even that price is order of magnitude and a multiple over PS3 retail

Re:Upgrades. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35595346)

Pick on the customer who not only has more lawyers, who not only has special laws which apply to their behavior as a defense organization, who not only has more money than Sony, but who also has more friends in Congress.

Lasers. Don't forget the lasers. They also have frick'n LASERS!!!

Re:Upgrades. (1)

westlake (615356) | more than 3 years ago | (#35595502)

The PS3 cluster took 1,500 =2,000 loss-leader consoles + spares out of retail distribution channels.

With no return to Sony from video game and Blu-Ray or on-line services. While cannibalizing sales of Sonu's own commercial HPC.product.

What the geek is asking for is a hardware subsidy from Sony's consumer products division - to be paid, ultimately, by PS3 gamers.

It is not going to happen.

The OtherOS made its exit from the PS2 with the introduction of the PS2 Slim. No one built a HPC cluster from the PS3 believed the game was going to go the whole nine innings.

Re:Upgrades. (0)

dissy (172727) | more than 3 years ago | (#35595510)

If you're the 9th grade bully you don't go picking on the 12th grade wrestling star who's the son of the Principal.

Shh, sometimes the 9th grader bully actually does when he is goaded on enough ;)
It's funny And entertaining!

Let's hope Sony does try to pull something

Re:Upgrades. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35595024)

I would worry more about Sony lawyers. They have got to be salivating at the Air Force's bankroll and trying to come up with a reason to sue.

They already had their fill from processing the government contracts. The index was probably 20 pages.

But the thing most Slashdot people don't get is that the Government is not a regular customer. They didn't go buy a thousand or so PS3s off the shelf.

They said "Hey Sony, sell us this, we'll pay you money" and Sony replied "Money money! Whatever you wish!"

The Airforce gets their own firmware. They get a direct line to the Sony techs. That's how big customers are treated. You don't go to them. They come to you.

Re:Upgrades. (1)

FritzTheCat1030 (758024) | more than 3 years ago | (#35595244)

the Government is not a regular customer. They didn't go buy a thousand or so PS3s off the shelf.

Of course not, that would be un-American. Instead, they contracted Boeing or Halliburton, who ran their usual act of hiring a circle of private consultants taking massive cuts of the pie, and bought the PS3s for $750,000 a piece instead of $399 and stuck the taxpayers with the bill.

Re:Upgrades. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35595074)

Suing the government for anything software related is virtually impossible. Copyright infringement? No. EULA? No. Hacking? No.

Sony will just have to settle for banning the US military from PSN. That'll show them.

Re:Upgrades. (3, Interesting)

jesseck (942036) | more than 3 years ago | (#35595356)

So, to counter this, the Air Force needs to convince DHS and FBI that clusters of PS3s are more efficient at processing biometric databases. That would help ensure that, no matter what Sony does to keep OtherOS and Jailbreak out of the PS3, doing so would be a hindrance to our national security.

Re:Upgrades. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35594998)

I think they can swing for the 20-100k for dev kits... Then they do not even have to have the overhead of linux in the way...

DMCA broken (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35594678)

With the "Other OS" removed, doesn't it mean that the supercomputer is violating the DCMA?

Re:DMCA broken (3, Funny)

Seumas (6865) | more than 3 years ago | (#35594716)

No, because they don't *have* to update the firmware and as long as they're not planning to connect to the Playstation Network with it, they don't even *need* to update to the latest firmware that removes that functionality. Of course, if they did have to, I bet it sure would come in handy if there was some guy who could "jailbreak" the system to allow people to make further use of it. *ahem*

Re:DMCA broken (0)

Cwix (1671282) | more than 3 years ago | (#35594858)

I'm sure they have full access regardless of the other os feature. The other os was crippled to using only one of the cells of the processor, I'm willing to bet they are using all 8 in this super computer.

They either have a special license from Sony, or they've cracked it a long time ago.

Re:DMCA broken (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35594982)

Indeed. I doubt Sony wrote special software for the military; perhaps they are using an engineering firmware build. OTOH Sony could have disclosed the root keys.

so now Hotz has violated the Espionage Act? (1)

decora (1710862) | more than 3 years ago | (#35595232)

by releasing the keys which are 'national defense information'?

Re:DMCA broken (2)

pavon (30274) | more than 3 years ago | (#35595028)

That doesn't sound right. I haven't used it myself, but I understood that the other OS had access to all the Cell cores, it just couldn't access the RSX GPU, which wouldn't really matter for a number crunching cluster.

Re:DMCA broken (2)

dakameleon (1126377) | more than 3 years ago | (#35595058)

It might - the GPU is usually the bit that crunches vectors best, and that is something I imagine to be fairly useful for the kinds of purposes the Air Force might put it to. Anyone know if the Cell is more suited to this task?

Re:DMCA broken (3, Interesting)

snkiz (1786676) | more than 3 years ago | (#35595348)

AFAK The original design of the ps3 didn't even have a GPU, the cell is more than capable. Those 10,000$ IBM cell blades, they are designed for high level graphics processing, to be sold to the likes of Pixar and such. (Note: I do not know if Pixar is using them, its an example.) I'm not sure why Sony ended up going with Nvidia GPU's. Possibly because they were already late to the game, the game dev's were pretty pissed off about having almost nothing they could port easily, and Nvidia was the compromise. I had Linux in mine, with a bit of hacking you could get the frame buffer to run out of the GPU's memory, witch made the memory crunch suck less. Had Other OS remained I'm sure some one could have built a 3D driver on top of a couple of the cells. I read rumours that a plan was being hatched before Sony pissed on the fire and raised a stink.

Re:DMCA broken (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35595430)

The GPU might crunch vectors best, but the Cell was made for crunching vectors, and the PS3 was developed in a pre-[CUDA|OpenCL] era when GPU programming was tedious and not nearly as flexible as it is today.

Re:DMCA broken (1)

Cwix (1671282) | more than 3 years ago | (#35595132)

Your right I think... I don't know I cant find anything definition either way. I do know that other os was hobbled to some extent. The graphics card is often better at very parallel tasks then the processor(IIRRC)... thats why you see all the distributed computing clients that can use them. So Ill stand by my point that its very likely the air force isn't using the same other os feature that we all know and love.

Re:DMCA broken (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35595526)

OtherOS had access to 6 of the 7

you have it backwards (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35595154)

All but one cell core is available when running under the hypervisor. No direct access to the graphics hardware, tho.

Re:DMCA broken (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35595026)

Of course, if they did have to, I bet it sure would come in handy if there was some guy who could "jailbreak" the system to allow people to make further use of it. *ahem*

Oh my God, they kidnapped Geohot!!

Re:DMCA broken (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35594932)

1201. Circumvention of copyright protection systems ...
(e) Law Enforcement, Intelligence, and Other Government Activities. — This section does not prohibit any lawfully authorized investigative, protective, information security, or intelligence activity of an officer, agent, or employee of the United States, a State, or a political subdivision of a State, or a person acting pursuant to a contract with the United States, a State, or a political subdivision of a State.

Fuck you sony (-1, Troll)

slashdotfan5 (2024594) | more than 3 years ago | (#35594688)

Despite that ability to run supercomputer, they take away the OtherOS option? I have read on this blog [blog.com] that their cluster already took a hit, cause many units failed, and new don't have the OtherOS option.

Like in the movies... (4, Funny)

_0xd0ad (1974778) | more than 3 years ago | (#35594690)

The Air Force is also using the Condor to process ground-based radar images of space objects, again with extraordinary clarity. Barnell shows images of a space shuttle orbiting Earth at 5 miles a second. Without Condor processing, the shuttle image is a blurry black triangle. With Condor processing, it is sharp and distinct. It’s clear that its payload doors are open.

Zoom! Enhance!

SCEA sucks (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35594696)

Wonder when Sony is going to try and sue them.

Firmware updates? (1)

Zuriel (1760072) | more than 3 years ago | (#35594702)

Hope noone runs a firmware update, they'll have to call Geohot to get Linux back on it.

Sony is the US enemy (-1, Troll)

slashdotfan6 (2024686) | more than 3 years ago | (#35594752)

Look, one solder was jailed [blog.com] , as he accidentally updated the firmware on 2 units. I guess he played games though.

Re:Sony is the US enemy (3, Informative)

webmistressrachel (903577) | more than 3 years ago | (#35594928)

Fuckin' Goatse in the library again!!!

This is just another of those occasions when you WISH for a better content filter system... in the same library, when you try to look at a little bit of sleaze like Facebook you are told "Fortinet blah blah forget it".

Can you imagine (2, Funny)

milonssecretsn (1392667) | more than 3 years ago | (#35594774)

Can you imagine what it would be like if it was made instead of 1716 XBOX 360's?

They would be replacing red-ringed XBOXes more often than scientists had to replace vacuum tubes on ENIAC. [wikipedia.org]

Not too good for them (1)

Clsid (564627) | more than 3 years ago | (#35594792)

Sony is shutting down Linux and I think it might have to do out of fear that if a lot of people like the Air Force guys from the article start buying PS3 as mere CPUs, all of the sudden Sony will be subsidizing a lot more than they thought they could get in return with the sales of games.

Re:Not too good for them (1)

mug funky (910186) | more than 3 years ago | (#35595228)

considering this has been happening since the xbox 1 days, wtf did sony even try the loss-leading model?

like my fucking phone company "improving" my service by ensuring i always run out of credit with the new pricing model. they're like "oops! sorry! we actually gave you too good a deal, so we'll have to fix that now that you're signed up. i'm sure you didn't sign up because of the fact it was a good deal, so it's not like we're misrepresenting ourselves or anything"

Re:Not too good for them (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#35595380)

Sony makes a profit on each PS3 they sell, after they stripped out the extra chips and found other ways to economize they do make money on each console they ship. Just the amount is tiny compared to what they make licensing games to run on it.

Converse would be more fun (1)

snsh (968808) | more than 3 years ago | (#35594816)

Would be cooler to have a PS3 game where you get to control 1,716 USAF planes.

Slashdot editors sleeping... again (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35594820)

"PS3's"? Playstation 3 is?

Yet, in the summary, the pluralization is correct. e.g. "The computer is made from 1,716 PlayStation 3s"

Jesus fucking Christ, this annoys the fuck out of me.

Re:Slashdot editors sleeping... again (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35594904)

Don't be too quick, PS3's is correct, as far as pluralization of abbreviations go.

Good for supercomputing and not games? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35594830)

What is it about the PS3 that has made it ideally suited to these distributed supercomputing applications, whereas the games are entirely lackluster compared to the 360/PC/arcade counterparts?

Is the idea that games are more single-threaded (or say lower thread count) which the PS3 can't do well, and these distributed things are very high thread count which it can do well?

Clearly it's a great piece of hardware, but it seems to have a lot of shortcomings as a games machine, despite being designed as one.

Re:Good for supercomputing and not games? (2)

webmistressrachel (903577) | more than 3 years ago | (#35594952)

Despite being slightly trolly about your opinion of PS3 games, you are probably nonetheless correct.

  The PS3 is massively parallelised (spelling Nazis - go!) compared to XBOX, and is therefore harder to fully utilize by games progammers than the more serial XBOX but for supercomputing there is likely a notable difference, hence the adoption.

The parent troll's comment about RROD probably had a ring of truth to it, too, as the Cell CPU is on IBM originally intended for, you guessed it, supercomputing and re-purposed for this task.

Re:Good for supercomputing and not games? (1)

webmistressrachel (903577) | more than 3 years ago | (#35594958)

Damn. 3am mistakes --

"the Cell CPU is ONE IBM originally intended for, you guessed it, supercomputing, and re-purposed for the task of gaming".

Sorry about that.

Sensible (1)

wvmarle (1070040) | more than 3 years ago | (#35594836)

Gaming consoles to do graphics processing, makes sense. They must have quite some specialised graphics related horse power, considering their planned output.

Re:Sensible (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35594886)

Compared to modern machines and even the crappiest budget cards, the SPUs in PS3 suck. They're too old. They're incredibly slow at double precision, okay at single precision vector maths.

Specialized graphics h/w may not be useful here (1)

perpenso (1613749) | more than 3 years ago | (#35595018)

Gaming consoles to do graphics processing, makes sense. They must have quite some specialised graphics related horse power, considering their planned output.

Not necessarily. The specialized hardware is designed to take a mathematical model of a world and to render that model into an image. Image processing, or more accurately computer vision - the part of image processing and artificial intelligence that is more relevant here, goes in the opposite direction. Computer vision takes an image and tries to generate mathematical models that describe the objects in the scene. For example recognizing if an object is a rock or a tank or an ambulance.

So I suspect the performance advantage offered by PS3 hardware is from the more general components not the specialized graphics components. Solving these sort of problems are really about number crunching.

Re:Specialized graphics h/w may not be useful here (1)

wvmarle (1070040) | more than 3 years ago | (#35595080)

IIRC from previous discussions regarding this platform, is that the PS3 is particularly well suited for doing fourier transforms and related analyses - graphics cards were also very capable in filtering signals in the seti@home project. Sounds somewhat similar to me. Edge detection, for example. Filtering signals from the noise where the noise is almost as bad as the signal.

From those discussions I also recall that the PS3 is not considered strong in general purpose number crunching work; your run-of-the-mill Intel is doing much better across the board. It's these specific tasks where specialised units like the PS3 can shine. Them being marketed as gaming consoles of course helps in keeping volume up and cost down, making them almost disposable and at least easily replaceable in case of hardware failure.

Re:Specialized graphics h/w may not be useful here (2)

VortexCortex (1117377) | more than 3 years ago | (#35595332)

From those discussions I also recall that the PS3 is not considered strong in general purpose number crunching work; your run-of-the-mill Intel is doing much better across the board. It's these specific tasks where [specialized] units like the PS3 can shine. Them being marketed as gaming consoles of course helps in keeping volume up and cost down, making them almost disposable and at least easily replaceable in case of hardware failure.

(emphasis mine) -- There is an issue with this statement. You assume that newly purchased units can actually be used beyond the capacity to run Sony signed code.

Let's not forget that the PS3 should only be used for gaming according to their manufacturer. As I recall, Sony removed the "other-os" option and are suing those that wish to re-enable that option. Thus, the units that the USAF are using are not disposable because they can not be easily replaced in case of hardware failure...

...Unless:

  • A supply cache of units was purchased while Sony had not disabled the other-OS option.
  • You operate above the DMCA, and "cracking" the PS3s is considered a "simple" task.
  • Sony loses their suit against George Hotz, and cracking what you purchase becomes legal.

In any event the PS3 is not currently a suitable choice for use in a mesh-super-computer, even when only performing the specific calculations that it excels at, given the current legal situation and state of copyright law.

Interesting to note: Sony won their battle against the movie industry when Sony's Beta Cassettes were targeted as a helping/promoting piracy on the grounds that Beta Cassettes had the capacity for non-infringing uses. The USAF is now using Sony PS3s in a substantial display of non-infringing use, which lends credence to the idea that cracking the PS3 firmware has the capacity for non-infringing uses.

I hope George Hotz's lawyers site the USAF PS3 supercomputer and the Beta Cassettes ruling and win us all Game Console DMCA exemption in the process. (Ironic that Sony's own favorable legal precedent could now bite them in the ass.)

Re:Specialized graphics h/w may not be useful here (2)

johanatan (1159309) | more than 3 years ago | (#35595396)

I think both of you are missing the fact that it's the Cell processor and not necessarily the graphics card which is the draw here. One master core; lots of slave cores. Surely a joy to program highly-parallel applications on.

Of course, the graphics card can be utilized with OpenCL (but I rather suspect that is mere icing on the cake).

examples of image processing? (1)

v1 (525388) | more than 3 years ago | (#35594856)

They mention what improvement it can do but I wasn't able to find any examples. Anyone at least have that space shuttle example they mentioned?

When Nodes Fail, They're Screwed (1)

Eponymous Coward (6097) | more than 3 years ago | (#35594874)

How do they deal with nodes failing? Did they buy a bunch of spares? If not, they might be in trouble because you can't buy the OtherOS PS3's anymore.

They're the airforce (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35594888)

1) they have spares 2) they know how to hack firmware 3) they're not afeared of apples lawyers

Re:They're the airforce (2)

sribe (304414) | more than 3 years ago | (#35594934)

1) they have spares 2) they know how to hack firmware 3) they're not afeared of apples lawyers

Apple's lawyers? When did Apple's lawyers start enforcing Sony's EULAs for Sony against Sony's users???

Re:They're the airforce (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35595234)

I'm sure SONY can "find" a truckload or two of firmware 3.21 (?) versions, if the AF can get a few concerned parties to -wink wink nudge nudge- look the other way, from time to time. I doubt Rome Labs' is viewed as a disposable customer.

Re:When Nodes Fail, They're Screwed (1)

b4dc0d3r (1268512) | more than 3 years ago | (#35595196)

No worries, it's the air force. They will just set up a no fly zone around Sony, and the problem will solve itself.

Re:When Nodes Fail, They're Screwed (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#35595390)

I'm pretty sure what they do is just crack them. At this point I'm pretty sure they've got some way of putting older firmware on the devices, and Sony can't do anything about it. The Federal government tends to quash law suits about this sort of thing before they get anywhere.

1716? (2)

EricX2 (670266) | more than 3 years ago | (#35594938)

It was 1760 back in December, does that mean 44 have died since then? Are they sure they aren't using Xbox 360s?

Yawn (0)

parlancex (1322105) | more than 3 years ago | (#35594964)

I'd say it was at best stupid and at worst extremely irresponsible to build a supercomputer out of Playstation gaming consoles. For as long as CUDA has been around they could've built a significantly more powerful supercomputer with GPUs with more control over the hardware and software and it would've been cheaper. Remember: Even with the OtherOS option the access to the GPU and most of the cell SPEs is disabled, meaning it's extremely crippled, even for the price. Paying for the developer licenses even at a steep discount would've made this a very poor decision.

Re:Yawn (1)

CronoCloud (590650) | more than 3 years ago | (#35595048)

You still get 6 SPE's under Linux, ever watch the PS3 boot up Linux? Look for the 2 Big penguins and the 6 little ones. And if you're clustering PS3's you're probably running headless.

Re:Yawn (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35595314)

The Airforce is only doing image processing of satellite data terabytes worth... something that version of the cell processor breezes through. Also they built this cluster like back in 2007... at that point in time CUDA was still in its infancy.

this will be big news come September (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35594972)

On Sunday afternoons, in lieu of the cancelled NFL season the USAF supercomputer will be running 15 high-def Madden games in real time.

What "stuff is for" (4, Insightful)

mcrbids (148650) | more than 3 years ago | (#35595000)

There's an attitude that's commonplace among with regards to stuff that you are supposed to do a particular thing with it. When you buy a can of Pringles, you are supposed to throw away the can! You buy a microwave for cooking, and the PS3 is for video games, and crayons are for kids to draw with, etc.

It's considered anachronistic to use crayons as an electric insulator, or PS3 for calculating aerodynamics, or use a microwave for generating and studying R/F interference patterns. And making long-range communications equipment from a Pringles can is.... just odd.

Yet none of these alternative uses would be particularly surprising to the engineering type, who think nothing of making a filter out of pantie-hose and a plastic butter container, because our type not only thinks outside the box, we decide what would be the best way to slice up the box in order to satisfy the problem at hand.

Good show Air Force!

This is so old... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35595126)

This is so old that Reddit users do not whine when it shows up on Digg.

What would be amusing? (1)

the_Bionic_lemming (446569) | more than 3 years ago | (#35595168)

What would be amusing about this is if it was disinformation.

think about it, third world countries snapping PS-3's in the hopes of building something better than a video arcade?

Troll (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35595184)

when will the greater digg effect affect slashdot?

To find out why they are doing this ... (1)

dbIII (701233) | more than 3 years ago | (#35595222)

To find out why they are doing this try contacting a vendor that sells Cell based servers. It's as if they are pricing them deliberately so that nobody will buy them. When I tried I could have purchased eight fairly equivalent Intel based systems for the price of one Cell based machine. Meanwhile a playstation with the same processor as a low end Cell server is under ten percent of the price. It's almost as if it a a vector of a price inflate and bribe scam - maybe it is considering how hard the sales guy tried to be my friend (and dropped all kinds of hints that might have been about a bribe) even though he knew I wasn't going to be buying more then a couple of the things.
Now they have even priced themselves out of the range of military budgets.

Hmmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35595336)

Does that mean they are violating the DMCA by rolling Firmware back to allow AnyOS? Didn't Sony just flip out at people for trying to use PS3s as actual computers?

The next step (4, Insightful)

Required Snark (1702878) | more than 3 years ago | (#35595388)

Even though the Slashdot Pundits dismiss this as useless, obviously the user community it supports thinks it is a big success. The claim is that Condor is in the to 40 supercomputers and it costs 10 times less then getting the same results using other hardware. Not too shabby.

It's likely that one of the reasons that this is so useful is the the SPE/Cell processors are good at the kind of image processing that the USAF is interested in. They are doing a lot of work in the Fourier domain, which is common for radar processing, so the Cell streaming 64 bit floating point architecture is well suited to the task.

From the article:

As impressive as the Condor is, it won’t be for long. Barnell envisions integrating smartphone processors into high-performance computing, putting the power of a Condor into a small surveillance drone the size of your fist, something weighing less than a pound and using the energy of a standard light bulb.

This translates to "We're going to use ARM processors as soon as possible".

These researchers see the value in leveraging commercial technology for cost effective high performance computing. If you want good performance per watt driven by a big commercial market the ARM is the way to go. There are GPUs that work with the ARM architecture, as well as ARM vector processing units. I would guess that they plan to use the upcoming generation of 64 bit ARM processors as soon as they are available. They might even start with current generation 32 bit dual CPU 2GHz hardware.

Just because the ARM is not as cool as CUDA doesn't make it useless. IBM has announce that it will not do a next gen PS3/Cell processor, so the USAF funding that effort by itself would be costly and have long lead times. ARM CPUs are only going to get cheaper, faster and be very power efficient. It's the obvious next step.

Apostrophe abuse (0, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35595548)

Air Force Supercomputer Made From PS3's what? What is this object that belongs to the PS3 that the supercomputer was made from?

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