At Pentagon, the PS3 only does everything


Sony Corp. lately has been trying to drum up interest in its PlayStation 3 video game console by emphasizing its versatility — such as the ability to play video games, DVDs and high-definition Blu Ray discs and browse the Internet — under the slogan “It only does everything.” But CNN is reporting that the Pentagon has come up with a use Sony may never have imagined: Link more than 2,500 consoles together to create a massive supercomputer.

CNN said the military is shopping for 2,200 new PS3s to complement a supercomputer cluster already running on 336 PS3s. The key to the supercomputer is the PS3’s powerful cell processor, which according to the justification review document is by far the most cost-efficient way to get the necessary processing power:

With respect to cell processors, a single 1U server configured with two 3.2GHz cell processors can cost up to [$8,000] while two Sony PS3s cost approximately $600.  Though a single 3.2 GHz cell processor can deliver over 200 [gigaflops], whereas the Sony PS3 configuration delivers approximately 150 [gigaflops], the approximately tenfold cost difference per [gigaflop]makes the Sony PS3 the only viable technology for [high performance computing]applications.

CNN says the Pentagon will install its own proprietary operating system on the machines, making it unlikely they will still be able to play video games. But I wouldn’t be surprised if one or two PS3s are quietly repurposed for high-def screenings of “Band of Brothers” or “Patton.” Just as long as they don’t use it to show “Dr. Strangelove.” After all, there’s no fighting allowed in the War Room.


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