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Air Force Creates Supercomputer Using PS3s

15 Dec, 2010 By: Chris Tribbey

PlayStation 3

In its TV ads, Sony Computer Entertainment America likes to brag that its PlayStation 3 does everything.

The United States Air Force appears to agree.

Built from off-the-shelf components, the Condor Cluster supercomputer project uses 1,716 PS3s and is capable of computing operations by the trillions per second, according to Mark Barnell, the director of high-performance computing at the Air Force Research Laboratory.

He added in a press release from the Air Force that the computer is extremely energy efficient, the seventh-greenest computer in the world.

“This particular system is about half a petaflop, or capable of about 500 trillion calculations per second,” Barnell said. “In the current time that we can measure it, it’s about the 35th- or 36th-fastest computer in the world, and with some things that are going to be changing in the next eight or nine months with some upgrades, we could boost it to maybe the 20th-fastest computer in the world, and at the same time make it, at that moment in time, the greenest computer.”

Costing about $2 million to build, the Condor Cluster is used for “computer intelligence,” where programmers write algorithms that “teach” the computer how to read words, letters, sentences and symbols, in the hopes it will start teaching itself how to think, according to the release. Currently, it can read 20 pages of information per second, and is nearly 100% accurate.

“We have quite a few research and development efforts, working on those kinds of applications to do confabulation and prediction,” Barnell said. “That will open up a variety of areas which could help a lot of other efforts and a lot of the areas in which the Air Force would like to go.”

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