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New Game For Playstation 3: Crunching Numbers

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Air Force Research Laboratory's PlayStation 3 cluster

The Air Force Research Laboratory in Rome, N.Y., uses a cluster of 336 PlayStation 3 gaming consoles for research on urban surveillance.

Credit: Mark Barnell /

Researchers and some government agencies are using Sony PlayStation 3 (PS3) consoles to process data using the game machine's powerful Cell processor. For example, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency's Cyber Crimes Center uses 40 interconnected PS3s to decrypt passwords. Stanford University's Folding@home (FAH) project uses almost 40,000 PS3s volunteered by their owners to participate in a protein-folding study.

The FAH team began using personal computers for the study, but expanded the study to include volunteer PS3s. "We more than tripled or quadrupled the power of FAH with the addition of the PlayStations," says FAH director Vijay Pande. Researchers say that more 880,000 PS3s have participated in the project.

The U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory uses a cluster of 336 PS3s for research on urban surveillance and large image processing. "We're taking gaming consoles and doing something scientific," says the Air Force's Mark Barnell. The combination of the PS3's Cell processor, which enables complex real-time graphics and calculations, and the ability to install the Linux operating system, opened the door to researchers.

University of California, Berkeley professor David P. Anderson notes that the Cell processor can perform 100 billion operations per second, compared with 5 billion operations per second for a typical CPU. "It turned out that with a certain amount of work, it was possible to run scientific applications in the processor," Anderson says.

From The San Francisco Chronicle
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