In A Nutshell
The US Air Force has combined over 1,700 PlayStation 3 consoles to create a 500 TFLOPS Supercomputer—the 33rd largest in the world, and fastest in the US Department of Defense.
The Whole Bushel
Video game enthusiasts knows that raw computing power has been king for some time now, at least in the minds of console designers. By some measurements, video game consoles now make up around three-quarters of all the raw computational power in the world. The drive for more power in a smaller package, combined with competition driving down the cost of consoles, has led to this unique development—a United States Air Force supercomputer made from 168 processors and 1,760 Sony PlayStation 3 consoles.
While this may seem like some kind of stunt, it’s actually incredibly practical. The low-cost, high-power and low energy use of the PS3 means that the $2 million price tag for the machine is about one-tenth of the average cost of a comparable supercomputer, plus it uses about one-tenth the power of one. And performance? Well, it’s the fastest supercomputer not just in the Air Force, but the entire Department of Defense; its 500 TFLOPS (trillion floating point operations per second) make it easily able to hold its own against some of the most robust computers on the planet. And we may have mentioned—it’s made out of PlayStations.
The Department of Defense will share access to the machine, which will be used for such tasks as “neuromorphic artificial intelligence research, synthetic aperture radar enhancement, image enhancement and pattern recognition research.” Food for thought next time you’re firing up Mortal Kombat.