US Air Force orders 2,200 PS3s

Government's aviation arm to expand its current console-based cluster powered by Sony's Cell processor to broaden supercomputer research.

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Engineers outside of the game industry continue to find uses for the powerful Cell processors housed within Sony's PlayStation 3. Last week, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Cyber Crimes Center said that it had begun using networked PS3s to crack encrypted caches of child pornography. The console has also been used as part of the Folding@home disease research project.

This week, it's the US Air Force that has begun to expand its current network of PS3s used for supercomputing research. As reported by Information Week, the Air Force plans to purchase 2,200 PS3s to add to its current network of 336 systems, which is housed at the Air Force Research Laboratory's information directorate in Rome, New York.

The PS3 is nothing if not multifunctional.
The PS3 is nothing if not multifunctional.

According to the Air Force's requisition form, its current PS3 cluster has studied such topics as Back Projection Synthetic Aperture Radar Imager formation, High Definition Video image processing, and Neuromorphic Computing. The expanded network will be used to study various software applications, including Advanced Computing Architectures and High Performance Embedded Computing.

The Air Force's form also notes that while the PS3's processor is less powerful than other Cell-based processors, it is substantially less expensive.

"With respect to cell processors, a single 1U server configured with two 3.2GHz cell processors can cost up to $8K while two Sony PS3s cost approximately $600," the form reads. "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 gigaflops makes the Sony PS3 the only viable technology for [high performance computing] applications."

Information Week reports that the Department of Defense awarded the Air Force Research Laboratory $2 million in June to conduct its Cell processor-based studies as part of its High Performance Computing Modernization Program.

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