PlayStation foils US Air Force

When US Air Force researchers last year created the mother-of-all-processors using Sony PlayStation-3 game consoles, it seemed like a stroke of cost-saving genius.

To deliver a 53-TerraFLOP processing cluster, the Air Force Research Laboratory in Rome, N.Y., hoovered up 1,700 PlayStation-3 game consoles, then harnessed the power of their combined processors to evaluate new breakthroughs in technology for synthetic aperture radar, high definition video and something called “neuromorphic computing”.

At the time, the researchers noted that two PlayStation-3 consoles provide 150 GigaFLOPs of processing power for $600, but a single 3.2GHz cell processor delivers 200 GFLOPs for $8,000. Why spend the extra cash when PlayStations come so cheap? (Besides, each of the 1,700 Sony processors comes with a controller and accessory package — did someone say, ‘EBay’?)

But Sony just ruined everything.

It turns out the AFRL’s PlayStation-powered processing cluster is based on the Linux operating system. Well, Sony just released a new PS-3 update that removes the ability of the device to support other operating systems.

Gaming blog ARS Technica notes the AFRL’s existing processing cluster still works, but the Linux-based devices can no longer be repaired or serviced if they break.

Says ARS Technica: “Such are the dangers of relying on consumer-grade hardware sold with a very different set of concerns from those that bedevil the scientists, especially in an era where firmware updates routinely alter functionality.”


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8 Responses to PlayStation foils US Air Force

  1. PMS 13 May, 2010 at 11:08 am #

    Why not to buy some new PS3s and exchange them with the Linux-compatible version (via eBay, for instance)?
    I’m sure there are hundreds (or thousands) of game-oriented PS3 users who would welcome such a ‘new-for-old-for-free deal’…

  2. DavidB 13 May, 2010 at 3:02 pm #

    The isn’t so much about the military that buys COTS and uses them in unique ways. In “custom” applications like this the product is just being used for it’s hardware feature set. The REAL danger here is consumers bought these PS3′s with a known feature set, and Sony has effectively pulled a “bait and switch” and removed a feature which for some was a primary influence in their buying decision. And done so in a manner that affectively neuters many other aspects of the product’s functionality if you DON’T upgrade. You can’t go “online”, you can’t play games against other PS3 users, you will very likely be unable to watch movies with it as Blu-ray copy protection evolves, etc. This has scary implications as more and more products are sold to us with “connected” capabilities.

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