PlayStation 3 cluster

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A cluster of PlayStation 3s running a Linux operating system

A PlayStation 3 cluster is a distributed system computer composed primarily of PlayStation 3 video game consoles.

Before and during the console's production lifetime, its powerful IBM Cell CPU attracted interest in using multiple, networked PS3s for affordable high-performance computing.[1]


PlayStation 3 clusters have had different configurations. A distributed computing system utilizing PlayStation 3 consoles does not need to meet the strict definition of a computer cluster.

The National Center for Supercomputing Applications had already built a cluster based on the PlayStation 2.[2] Terra Soft Solutions has a version of Yellow Dog Linux for the PlayStation 3,[3] and sells PS3s with it pre-installed,[4] in single units and in 8 and 32 node clusters.[5] RapidMind developed a stream programming package for the PS3.[6]

On January 3, 2007, Dr. Frank Mueller, Associate Professor of Computer Science at North Carolina State University, clustered 8 PS3s. Mueller commented that the 256 MB of system RAM is a limitation for this particular application, and considered attempting to retrofit more RAM. Software includes: Fedora Core 5 Linux ppc64, MPICH2, OpenMP v2.5, GNU Compiler Collection, and CellSDK 1.1.[7][8][9]

In mid-2007, Gaurav Khanna, a professor in the Physics Department of the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, independently built a message-passing based cluster using 8 PS3s running Fedora Linux. It was built with support from Sony Computer Entertainment as the first PS3 cluster with published scientific results. Named the PS3 Gravity Grid, it performed astrophysical simulations of large supermassive black holes capturing smaller compact objects.[10] Khanna claims performance exceeds that of a 100+ Intel Xeon core based traditional Linux cluster, on his simulations. The PS3 Gravity Grid gathered significant media attention through 2007,[11][12] 2008,[13][14] 2009,[15][16][17] and 2010.[18][19] Khanna also created an instructional website[20] on building such clusters.

In May 2008, The Laboratory for Cryptological Algorithms, under the direction of Arjen Lenstra at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, built a cluster of 200 consoles which broke a record for the Diffie-Hellman problem on elliptic curves.[21] The cluster operated until 2015.

In November 2010, the Air Force Research Laboratory created a powerful supercomputer, nicknamed the "Condor Cluster", by connecting together 1,760 consoles with 168 GPUs and 84 coordinating servers in a parallel array capable of 500 trillion floating-point operations per second (500 TFLOPS).[22] As built, the Condor Cluster was the 33rd largest supercomputer in the world and was used to analyze high definition satellite imagery.[23]

Single PS3[edit]

Even a single PS3 can significantly accelerate some computations. Marc Stevens, Arjen K. Lenstra, and Benne de Weger have demonstrated an MD5 brute-force attack in a few hours. In November 2007, they said: "Essentially, a single PlayStation 3 performs like a cluster of 30 PCs at the price of only one".[24]

Medical research[edit]

On March 22, 2007, SCE and Stanford University expanded the Folding@home project to the PS3.[25] Along with thousands of PCs already joined over the Internet, PS3 owners contributed to the study of improper protein folding and associated diseases, such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, Huntington's, cystic fibrosis, and cancer. The software was included as part of the 1.6 firmware update on March 22, 2007, and can be set to run manually or automatically when the PS3 is idle through the Cross Media Bar. Processing power from PS3 users greatly contributed, ranked third to Nvidia and AMD GPUs in teraflops.[26] In March 2011, more than one million PS3s had Folding@home installed and more than 27,000 active, for a total of 8.1 petaFLOPS. By comparison, the world's most powerful supercomputer as of November 2010, the Tianhe-IA, has a peak performance of 2.56 petaFLOPS, or 2,566 teraFLOPS.[27] The latest report stated that Folding@Home has passed the 5 native petaFLOP mark, of which 767 teraFLOPS were supplied by PlayStation 3 clients.[citation needed]

The Computational Biochemistry and Biophysics Lab in Barcelona has launched a distributed computing project called PS3GRID. This project was expected to run sixteen times faster than on a PC.[citation needed]

eHiTS Lightning is the first virtual screening and molecular docking software for the PS3.[28] It was released by SimBioSys.[29] as reported by Bio-IT World in July 2008.[30] This application runs up to 30 times faster on a single PS3 than on a regular single CPU PC, and it runs on PS3 clusters, achieving screening of huge chemical compound libraries in hours or days rather than weeks.


On March 28, 2010, Sony announced it would be disabling the PS3's OtherOS feature, with the v3.21 update, due to security concerns.[31] This update would not affect any existing supercomputing clusters, because they are not connected to PlayStation Network and would not be forced to update. However, it would make replacing the individual consoles that compose the clusters very difficult or impossible, because newer models would be shipped with v3.21.[32] This caused the end of the PS3's common use for clustered computing, though projects like "The Condor" were still being created with older PS3 units, and have come online after that update.[33]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Building Supercomputer Using Playstation 3". Console August 28, 2006. Archived from the original on February 6, 2007. Retrieved August 28, 2006.
  2. ^ "Scientific Computing on the Sony PlayStation 2". NCSA. Archived from the original on November 20, 2004.
  3. ^ "Terra Soft to Provide Linux for PLAYSTATION 3". Terra Soft.
  4. ^ "Linux pre-installed on PS3". Terra Soft. Archived from the original on December 11, 2007.
  5. ^ "Linux clusters". Terra Soft. Archived from the original on May 27, 2007. Retrieved June 5, 2007.
  6. ^ "RapidMind and Terra Soft partner to unleash PlayStation 3 for Linux". RapidMind. Archived from the original on August 22, 2007.
  7. ^ "Engineer Creates First Academic Playstation 3 Computing Cluster".
  8. ^ "NC State Engineer Creates First Academic Playstation 3 Computing Cluster". College of Engineering, North Carolina State University.
  9. ^ "Sony PS3 Cluster (IBM Cell BE)". Frank Mueller, Associate Professor, College of Engineering, North Carolina State University.
  10. ^ "PS3 Gravity Grid". Gaurav Khanna, Associate Professor, College of Engineering, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.
  11. ^ "Astrophysicist Replaces Supercomputer with Eight PlayStation 3s". Wired. October 17, 2007.
  12. ^ "PS3 cluster creates homemade, cheaper supercomputer". October 24, 2007.
  13. ^ Highfield, Roger (February 17, 2008). "Why scientists love games consoles". The Daily Telegraph. London. Archived from the original on September 6, 2009.
  14. ^ Peckham, Matt (December 23, 2008). "Nothing Escapes the Pull of a PlayStation 3, Not Even a Black Hole". The Washington Post.
  15. ^ "Playstation 3 Consoles Tackle Black Hole Vibrations". January 28, 2009.
  16. ^ "Playstation 3: A Discount Supercomputer?".
  17. ^ "The Supercomputer Goes Personal". April 2009.
  18. ^ "The PlayStation powered super-computer". BBC News. September 4, 2010.
  19. ^ Farrell, John (November 12, 2010). "Black Holes and Quantum Loops: More Than Just a Game". Forbes.
  20. ^ "". Gaurav Khanna, Associate Professor, College of Engineering, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.
  21. ^ Bos JW, Kaihara M, Kleinjung T, Lenstra AK, Montgomery PL (2012). "Solving a 112-bit Prime Elliptic Curve Discrete Logarithm Problem on Game Consoles using Sloppy Reduction". International Journal of Applied Cryptography. 2 (3): 212–228. doi:10.1504/IJACT.2012.045590.
  22. ^ "AFRL to hold ribbon cutting for Condor supercomputer". The Official Web Site of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. November 17, 2010. Archived from the original on December 9, 2010. Retrieved December 15, 2010.
  23. ^ Koff, Stephen (November 30, 2010). "Defense Department discusses new Sony PlayStation supercomputer". Retrieved March 28, 2011.
  24. ^ "Nostradamus". Retrieved September 19, 2012.
  25. ^ "Folding@home". Sony Computer Entertainment. Archived from the original on March 18, 2007. Retrieved March 18, 2007.
  26. ^ "Folding@Home – Client statistics by OS". Stanford University.
  27. ^ Electronista (November 16, 2009). "TOP500 listing for Tianhe1A". Archived from the original on November 17, 2010. Retrieved April 9, 2010.
  28. ^ "The Cell/B.E. Technology Opens New Frontiers in Molecular Modeling". Archived from the original on September 10, 2012.eHiTS Lightning
  29. ^ "eHiTS Lightning by SimBioSys, Inc". Archived from the original on September 12, 2012.SimBioSys, Inc
  30. ^ "Bio-IT World, July 2008". Bio-IT World. July 2008.
  31. ^ "PS3 Firmware (v3.21) Update – PlayStation Blog". March 28, 2010. Retrieved September 19, 2012.
  32. ^ McElroy, Justin (May 12, 2010). "Air Force disappointed by PS3's Other OS removal". Joystiq. Retrieved September 19, 2012.
  33. ^ Dave Tobin, The Post-Standard (March 23, 2011). "Rome Lab's supercomputer is made up of 1,700 off-the-shelf PlayStation 3 gaming consoles". Retrieved September 19, 2012.

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