Geeks like to make things by combining other things (just look at Minecraft), but the US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) has taken this to extremes, connecting 1,760 PlayStation 3 gaming consoles together to create a massive supercomputer.
The Condor Cluster is considered to be the fastest interactive computer in the entire Defense Department, so we're assuming they're not just playing LittleBigPlanet on the thing. It boasts 168 separate graphical processing units, and is capable of 500 trillion floating point operations per second (500 TFLOPS), thanks to 84 coordinating servers in a parallel array.
AFRL Director of High Power Computing, Mark Barnell, explains that the choice to use PS3s rather than off-the-shelf computing parts was actually a financial one. Using the consoles meant AFRL could construct the system for a total cost of US$2 million - a mere 5-10% of an equivalent system made out of computer bits. There's also an added bonus: The gaming solution uses one tenth the power of other comparable supercomputers.
According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the cluster lives in Rome, New York, under the control of Ohio's Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. It will be used largely to research into pattern recognition, artificial intelligence and radar enhancement, as well as to process ultra-high-resolution satellite imagery, looking at billions of pixels per minute. It will be used by Air Force service branches and centres all over the US.
In case you want to build your own supercomputer in your backyard, AFRL have one very important tip for you - make sure you use older PS3 consoles, because you really do want that "Other OS" installation option.
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Jimmy the Geek