From PlayStation to supercomputer

As perhaps the clearest evidence yet of the power of sophisticated but inexpensive game consoles, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has assembled a supercomputer from an army of Sony PlayStation 2 devices.

The resulting system, with components purchased at retail prices, cost a little more than $50,000. Researchers at the supercomputing center believe the system may be capable of a half trillion operations a second, well within the definition of supercomputer, although it may not rank among the world’s 500 fastest supercomputers.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the project, which uses the open-source Linux operating system, is that the only hardware engineering involved was placing 70 of the individual game machines in a rack and plugging them together with a high-speed Hewlett-Packard network switch. The center’s scientists bought 100 machines but are holding 30 in reserve, possibly for high-resolution display application.