Scientist Sticks 200 PS3s Together to Study Black Holes

PS3 power.

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An enterprising New England-based physics professor is studying black holes using video game hardware.

Dr. Gaurav Khanna, a black hole physicist at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, has strapped together PlayStation 3s, around 200 of them, to build a "supercomputer" that he's using to research and study vibrations in space-time called gravitational waves.

His work at the university's Center for Scientific Computing and Visualization Research began in 2007 when he linked 16 PS3 systems to model black hole collisions. Now, he's going further, using the 200 PS3s to build a supercomputer capable of handing large numbers of processes.

Khanna explained in an interview with The New York Times that "science has become expensive," and building a supercomputer out of PS3s made sense due to the console's technical capabilities (they can also run custom operating systems) and low cost relative to more traditional options.

Sony Computer Entertainment America is a supporter of Khanna's enterprising research methods, even donating four PS3s to aid in his research.

Khanna's PS3-powered supercomputer network uses the Linux operating system. The consoles he's using must be early models, as Sony disabled the PS3's "Install Other OS" feature in May 2013, citing security concerns.

This isn't the first instance of a PS3 supercomputer. In 2011, scientists at the Air Force Research Lab networked 1,716 systems to create what they at the time called one of the world's largest, fastest, and least expensive supercomputers.

We may not see as many PS3-powered supercomputers in the future, however. Due to the system's memory limitations, future supercomputers are likely to be powered by PCs with beefy graphics cards, Khanna explained.

"The next supercomputer we're going to build will probably be made entirely of these cards," he explained. "It won't work for everything, but it will certainly cover a large set of scientific and engineering applications, especially if we keep improving on it."

The author of The New York Times story, Laura Parker, is a former GameSpot editor.

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