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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 May, 2003, 11:38 GMT 12:38 UK
PlayStation turns supercomputer
A collection of colourful Sony PlayStation 2s, Sony
PlayStation: First games then science
Soon supercomputers could be made out of Sony PlayStation 2 game consoles.

Scientists at the US National Center for Supercomputing Applications, (NCSA) have linked together 70 PlayStation 2s to find out how good they are at crunching numbers.

The machines were linked together as part of a project to investigate how to cut the cost of creating powerful clusters of computers.

Now the scientists are refining the Sony supercomputer and seeing how it compares to other clusters around the world.

Cheap tricks

The researchers estimate that the cluster of consoles could be capable of up to half a trillion operations per second, a figure that compares well with other supercomputers.

To perform this feat the researchers are using the graphics co-processor buried inside the console.

The NCSA team has harnessed the power of this specialist chip, known as the Emotion Engine, using a version of the Linux operating system that Sony has made available for the machine.

PS2 controller
A more typical simulation on the PlayStation
Installing this operating system software turns the PlayStation from a dedicated games machine into something more like a cut down home computer.

This software also gives the researchers more tools to interrogate and tune the hardware inside the console.

The cluster of Sony machines plus associated networking kit to link them all together cost around $50,000 (30,500).

Linking together top of the line desktop machines to get comparable performance would be much more expensive.

The researchers are now refining the cluster of machines and working on ways to improve its performance and moving towards doing some actual supercomputing on it.

One of the limitations that the group will have to overcome is the relatively small amount of memory, 32Mb, the machine has onboard.

This limits the amount of data that can be shuttled back and forth for the graphics chip to work on.

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