How to build a PlayStation Supercomputer: PS3 Cluster

Supercomputer using PlayStation 3

In 2010 we heard that the US Air force used 1760 PlayStation 3 to create a supercomputer. It has a lot of computational power. That supercomputer has a power of 500 million TFLOPS, using the PS3 cluster method. Another supercomputer made by Professor Gaurav Khanna of the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth is also famous because he just used 176 PS3 to create a new PlayStation Supercomputer. The US Air force cluster is being used for high-resolution image processing, pattern recognition, and other military use. Building a supercomputer using PlayStation 3 is very interesting and it can be great for scientific use.

Professor Gaurav Khanna used 16 PS3 with Linux OS to do the required calculations. The professor created large PS3 clusters with the help of the university, the donation of Sony, and his own investment. The computer was used for research in black holes. To be specific it is being used to model black hole collision and gravitational waves. Usually, powerful workstations and gaming laptops are expensive. But consoles are not that expensive and they have a very powerful GPU and CPU. So the use of the computational power of PlayStation is actually a smart use. Professor Gaurav Khanna is also planning to build a 220 PlayStation 3 cluster supercomputer.

The beloved PlayStation 3 is just awesome because it can give power to both gaming and calculations. Basically, gaming consoles are powerful computers. They have a CPU, GPU, memory, and storage. Moreover, the graphics card has more computational power for faster calculations. Small personal computers can’t handle such large calculations and can become expensive. Supercomputers are also very expensive for anyone. Using an old but useful piece of technology in such a productive way is a good answer to recycle and reuse concepts as well.

Computational Power of PlayStation 3

Professor Khanna said that PS3 worked better than using normal computers in a cluster. This gaming console was released in 2007. PlayStation 3 actually has a powerful octa-core processor inside. Mostly supercomputers and servers have hundreds of Intel Xeon processors. But a PS3 cluster can give a reasonable performance in cheap compared to an expensive Xeon. The next thing is the graphics card. They are very expensive and powerful as well. A GPU has to do lots of special calculations for rendering graphics. Thus this concept harvests that power for useful scientific research.

Air Force Computer
Air Force Computer Image Credit: US DOD

In 2007 [email protected] also started support for PS3 and many console owners contributed a lot to the project. There is also a distributed computing project named PS3GRID by a lab in Barcelona. These projects use the contribution and power of computers and consoles of owners when their device is idle. These projects have clearly shown that one PS3 is very capable of more than 2 computers at the same price.

Sony pushed a patch in 2010 which doesn’t allow installation of OS such as Linux. This has caused the downfall of the PlayStation 3 cluster. The new generation gaming consoles from Sony are more powerful but they can’t be used for clustering and computing purpose. We can’t blame manufacturers for it. Cluster computing is not the designated use of the console. However, if it would have been possible, we could make more powerful cheap supercomputers. Many universities and colleges in various countries don’t have access to powerful computing. Using old consoles can solve some of these issues. Institutes can get computational power for cheap and older devices are also utilized.

Also Read: US Air Force Space Fence Project

How to build a PlayStation Supercomputer

We now realize the awesome power of PS3. Therefore we think many people and organizations want to build their own PlayStation 3 cluster. The idea is very basic, more console equals more power. We know that this gaming console heats up, so makeup plan for a good cooling system. Professor Khanna used refrigerated shipping containers to keep his supercluster. All you need are a PS3, internet connection, some skills, and software. These are simple and basic steps to building your own PS3 cluster supercomputer.

This is for educational purpose and we don’t take any responsibility for your device and actions. Please follow these steps to make your own small powerful computer.

  • Download Fedora 8 image and burn it on a bootable DVD.
  • Download the custom boot image and put it on a USB drive like Pendrive
  • Format the PlayStation 3.
  • Install the downloaded OS (Fedora 8).
  • Setup the SSH, Message Passing Interface, and the Cell SDK.

The detailed instructions are available on the official workshop PS3 Cluster Guide site of UMass Dartmouth. Fedora is a very popular Linux distro and it is the OS of choice here. Fedora 8 came in  2007 and it is the tested one. The newer version might work but there is no guarantee. MPI or Message Passing Interface is one of the important parts or standards being used for clustering purposes. It simply helps to connect and multiple computers and enables them to run programs parallelly and exchange messages and instructions.


Peak and the downfall

This PlayStation cluster computing started with PS2. It was a very efficient computer at that time. Then researchers started working with PS3. Researchers in UMass Dartmouth, Air Force, and North Carolina State University followed this and made powerful computers. They were very efficient and cost-effective for that time. But Sony pushed a new patch that didn’t allow installing Linux or any other OS. The consoles which already had Linux installed were safe because they were not connected in the PSN network.

The new PS3 Slim also didn’t support such clustering and installing other operating systems. New PS4 came in 2014 and it also didn’t support installing a new OS. This pushed researchers back away and slowly the charm of cluster computing went away from consoles. These days mobile phones, laptops, HEDT processors, and graphics cards have become very powerful. Online cloud computing resources are also getting cheaper. However, it would have been great to still have the ability to use such powerful gaming consoles for scientific purposes.

Original Published: 2015/01/16

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About the Author: Abhishek Chand

Structural Engineer by profession. Computer and smartphone enthusiast. Tech-savvy blogger and former Gadget reviewer of AP1 HD TV and TechnoNepal.

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