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back to article Boffin stacks 16 PS3s to simulate black hole collisions

When most of us arrived home with our newly purchased PS3, we couldn't wait to start annihilating aliens in Resistance: Fall of Man or kicking butt kung fu-style in Virtua Fighter 5. Not astrophysicist Gaurav Khanna - he used his to build a supercomputer. Khanna now owns a total of 16 PS3 consoles, all linked together to provide …

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Linux

Love that Cell chip

Now if only I could get it without the game console packaging.

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Jon
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But the WII is so much better*

*not

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Misleading

It's a bit misleading to say that the PS3 is faster than the fastest desktop machines. It really depends on what you are doing. The PS3 is very fast at certain things, but it is also limited by only 256MB of RAM, and slow double-precision floating point operations (it's very fast at single-precision, but other CPUs can be much faster at double). This cluster is twice the size of the one at my school, but we had the first academic PS3 cluster over a year ago :) - http://moss.csc.ncsu.edu/~mueller/cluster/ps3/coe.html

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Anonymous Coward

He should see

If he can get it added to the folding at home app on the PS3.

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E

Excellent

That is better and smarter use of money than a wall of x86_64 blade servers.

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Black Helicopters

And Saddam couldn't get a PS2

If people remember when the Playstation 2 was released, exports to Iraq were deemed forbidden. Allegedly, the idea was the powerful Playstation 2 would be used to build a powerful Iraqi supercomputer! I'll even quote a Register article, http://www.theregister.co.uk/2000/12/19/iraq_buys_4000_playstation_2s/

Surely, we must limit Playstation 3 exports to Iran!

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Joke

And the best bit

When they're finished their project for the evening, they can knock off and have a bit of a play!

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Well, what else can you do with a PS3...

...when the games are so crap?

Sony certainly have plenty of them going spare, maybe they should donate them to research?

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Flame

@ David Corbett

Go f**k yourself, troll

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Future headline

After the earlier comment about the Wii, I'm just looking forward to this headline:

"Boffin stacks 16 Wiis to simulate big crowd of idiots waving their arms about."

Now that'll be science!

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Alert

wow

I didn't know they were THAT heavy...

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I'm sure it won't be long......

.....Before someone comes along and says that an XBox 360 cluster would do the job better. I was actually surprised not to find a comment in the first 5 when I read them.

And for the price, I doubt he could make a better cluster, at least for the purpose HE needs. Of course it's a theoretical simulation of an event using equations and constants that are no more than guesswork in the first place, so the validity (and usefulness) of the results is questionable to say the least.

Either way, I wish him luck :)

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@sarah

I'd say its way faster, thanks to the SPE units, which when programmed correctly act better than a multicore processor, and the PS3 has 7 of them as well as the main CPU.

Just a few SPE's can real time raytrace, NO help from the graphics chips either:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=oLte5f34ya8

Once programmers get used to multithreaded game code and farming out performance enhancing methods to the SPE's, things are really gonna get interesting.

SPE usage so far in games:

http://boardsus.playstation.com/playstation/board/message?board.id=ps3&thread.id=2575300

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@Jon

Congratulations on winning the the dumb-ass comment of the week award.

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PR

"Overall, a single PS3 performs better than the highest-end desktops available and compares to as many as 25 nodes of an IBM Blue Gene supercomputer"

ROFL... I smell bullshit.

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Coat

@ Jon

Quote: "But the WII is so much better, not"

Oh deary me, you appear to be stuck in the 1990's. Much like the gameplay on the PS3.

Here's your jacket, I believe it's the one with "Backstreet Boys: I want them THAT way!" written on the back.

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Joke

But you know it doesn't count as...

... A proper blu-ray player!

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Go

... imagine if everyone did this ...

Ok ... so Sony sell the PS3 at a loss .. right? So what would happen if EVERYONE bought a PS3 did this with it and didn't buy any games?

/me dreams

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Anonymous Coward

But this is what the PS3 is designed for, not games.

The Cell processor simply isn't a very good architecture when it comes to gaming, Sony merely used it in the PS3 to bring it's costs down for other more profitable areas (like selling high end research machines).

It has too many cores that are too specific in task to be usable for the constantly changing data of computer games, as users input commands via the controller it's impossible to predict what needs processing next and hence which SPU should handle it, as such a lot of resources are wasted deciding where data has to go and even then some or possibly even all SPUs may not be able to handle such type of data processing as is required at that point in time and will end up unused for that period of time anyway.

What the Cell is good for though is this type of project, where you just have a LOT of data that needs crunching. Perfect for data that is static and isn't going to change much if at all so that you can divide the data up before you start processing and then dish it out to the SPUs and let it churn through them in it's own time without worrying about them ever being idle or worrying about decisions about what data needs to go where until the data is all done and processed.

The fact the PS3 only has a GeForce 7800 equivalent graphics card and pushed Bluray so heavily, coupled with having a Cell processor rather than something better suited to gaming like a CPU with 2 to 4 generic cores is evidence enough that Sony weren't too bothered about gaming with the PS3 and that their main goal was to make hardware designed for their other business paths cheaper by using consumers as a tool to bring prices down.

Whilst the PS3 has the most expensive hardware out there, when it comes to applying hardware to gaming the PS3 only sits somewhere roughly between the 360 and the Wii power wise but sits on top for scientific application like this.

This isn't to say it matters, the PS2 was pretty low spec last gen in comparison but it still came out on top however Sony's arrogance in believing consumers would act as a tool to bring Cell costs down and Bluray mainstream may have cost their console market dearly even if it's helped Bluray and Cell judging by the relatively low software and last place hardware sales right now.

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Linux

Yay Linux

<insert Linux/FOSS fanboy commentary here>

But seriously, this is the kind of inventiveness that needs greater publicity in this world of End Users. I'd be interested to see PS3/COTS hardware put to use in more and more "hardcore" computing projects. Powered by Linux, of course.

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oh dear....

David Corbett...it was only a matter of time before the mindless fanboys came out.

@Sarah Baucom - It's true that the doublt performance is an order of magnitude slower, but it's still cheaper to buy a blade rack or several PS3 to match the performance than it is to buy a super-performing cluster.

And memory isn't such an issue. The whole purpose idea behind parallel computing is to break one big task into smaller sub-tasks. This is also means, breaking up the memory used into smaller fragments. Ideally, you should be loading only the data you need at a certain point before kicking out the results over the network to free up the memory before continuing.

Or, you could use more that 256Mb of memory space, but it would be paged to disk anyhow under Linux. Of course, if you're school has had a ps3-cluster for a year now, you'd know all about that stuff.

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Anonymous Coward

@Sarah Baucom

I think it's fairly obvious from the article that he means 'performs better than the highest-end desktops <for this type of calculation>'. Basically, he's using the graphics processor to do maths (which is what graphics processors do very well).

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Stop

@ David Corbett

Well done on being the first person to turn this thread into something negative. I have to ask why you bothered to read the article, did you just see PS3 in the title and rub your hands together gleefully? Grow up.

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Cell chip

If cell chips are so good for certain types of calculation, why can't we get them on a riser card and stick it in a PCI-E slot.

Surely it could be used for in game physics engines, and of course academics could make use of it without having to bastardise games consoles.

Does a PS3 contain just one cell? And the 16 machines in that cluster are communicating over gigabit ethernet.

A single PC with two PCI-E 16* slots could probably have that many cells stuck inside. It might need an upgrade to it's cooling solution, but they'd get higher intercommunication bandwidth, lower latency and a bigger pool of memory (shared) to access.

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Coat

If they did this on the Wii..

They could use the controllers to simulate black holes slamming nito each other or perhaps have Mario try and escape from the gravity well!

/my coat's the one made up of strings...

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@Brian Miller

http://www-03.ibm.com/systems/bladecenter/hardware/servers/qs21/

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Paris Hilton

re: Misleading

"but it is also limited by only 256MB of RAM"

The PS3 has 512MB of RAM, whilst it's split between 256MB for the Cell, and 256 for the RSX both can use the other's memory pools. In a non graphical Linux enviroment, you should be able to use most of the RSX's memory too.

Paris Hilton Loves Wii, because all her friends have one.

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RE:But this is what the PS3 is designed for, not games.

I have to wonder Mr Anonymous Coward, do you actually have any experience in programming games? Because if you did, and had experience in programming the PS3 you would know that the problem you've desribed just doesn't happen.

The PPU is what is used to shcedule jobs on the SPU's, and it's this bit that it a little more suited to overly complex descision making. In fact, the SPU's themselves can also decided what piece of data to process and HOW to process it, since SPU code is really just data too. It's not like the PS2 where you could only feed data to VU0 and VU1 with no real logic control beyond basic loop-branching.

Just because they don't have a deep and costly branch prediction scheme, doesn't mean that they're inneficient at conditional code.

A branch miss on a SPU only cost around 6-cyles. Compare this to something like the oh-so-wonderful general purpose processors such as modern day Pentium class where misses can range from just a few cycles to a hundred.

Right...I have a bug in my SPU code to fix.

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Gates Halo

SOH bypass?

@ James & the AC

James: "David Corbett...it was only a matter of time before the mindless fanboys came out. "

AC: "Well done on being the first person to turn this thread into something negative.."

Actually I think that 'accolade' can go to Jon, with comment #2.

.

@ the other AC

AC: "Go f**k yourself, troll"

1/10, must try harder.

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RE: But this is what the PS3 is designed for, not games

"The Cell processor simply isn't a very good architecture when it comes to gaming" - Really? My day job would argue otherwise, but I'm sure you have good reasons...

"It has too many cores that are too specific in task to be usable for the constantly changing data of computer games" - You can never have too many cores now that the Gigahertz era of CPU design is over. SPEs are not really that specific, they are very good at the sorts of things a game engine needs - physics, scene management, culling, in fact a lot of things that can aid the RSX, in contrast to a PC graphics card which tries to do everything to relieve the general purpose CPU. Data in computer games usually consists of predefined audio, 3D models, textures, etc, it doesn't change constantly.

"as users input commands via the controller it's impossible to predict what needs processing next" - Everything. For example a racing game, your controller input affects the steering angle, which needs to be fed into the physics engine. The physics engine is running regardless, it's just a different input.

"and hence which SPU should handle it, as such a lot of resources are wasted deciding where data has to go" - SPUs are identical, a good scheduler will route work to where there is idle time. The time taken for this is negligible and anyway you handle this on the PPE, which is what it's designed for.

"and even then some or possibly even all SPUs may not be able to handle such type of data processing as is required at that point in time and will end up unused for that period of time anyway." - You've written the SPU code and compiled it, so by definition both you and the compiler know it will run on the SPU. If you find yourself in this situation, you've broken your compiler.

I've never seen a post that displays such complete misunderstanding in pretty much every phrase. It is obvious you have never programmed either for the Cell, or worked on any published game, given your complete lack of knowledge about both, so I have to wonder why you have gone to such lengths to post what you have. Presumably you are trying to make yourself feel better about purchasing a rival system? Why don't you just go and play it?

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@ Andy Worth

"Of course it's a theoretical simulation of an event using equations and constants that are no more than guesswork in the first place, so the validity (and usefulness) of the results is questionable to say the least."

I hardly think that general relativity theory counts as "no more than guesswork". If you want experimental confirmation of it's predictions, try sending a signal to a satellite without accounting for the frequency shift.

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RSX Memory

"The PS3 has 512MB of RAM, whilst it's split between 256MB for the Cell, and 256 for the RSX both can use the other's memory pools. In a non graphical Linux enviroment, you should be able to use most of the RSX's memory too."

That's just not how it works. The other memory pool is ~governed by~ the RSX, and needs to be accessed via the video driver or some graphics API.

Of course, if NVidia drivers are available for it, I suppose you could write an OpenGL based swap FS driver... But I don't know if a kernel module would be able to access OpenGL APIs... Never done that sort of thing.

So practically the thing is limited to 256 megs of RAM no matter what. That makes it useless for desktop work: Typical desktop Linux is a pain in the ass with 256 megs of RAM.

But when it comes to single precision floating point ops, the cell processor is an epic badass.

(And just so ya'll know, that is extreeeemely valuable for gaming.)

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Happy

Nonsense! The Wii can do this.

My Wii can simulate black holes, and in a graphically superior manner as well. Only the other night, there it was- with Mario running about and trying not to fall in.

:

gary

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Anonymous Coward

What you are forgetting

What those that write games for the PS3 are forgetting is that the Linux environment Sony let you use is controlled by their Hyper Visor technology which somewhat restricts what hardware resources you can use.

For a start you can't access the RSX graphics system at all. The only graphics can be done through a Frame Buffer driver. When there was a hack new Sony firmware swiftly closed it. I assume Sony don't want any games avoiding paying Sony their cut by running in Linux. That also means you really are stuck with 256mb of RAM, still for massively parallelised number crunching like this, thats probably not too bigger problem.

So the only really difference between a normal cluster node and using the PS3 is the Cell chip and its SPEs which can certainly have its advantages.

As a games platform its definitely the most powerful. But then who owns a console for its specs. You buy it to play games and thats where at present it certainly deserves some criticism.

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Trolls...

...funny, they got nothing in the article to troll at so making troll noises at each other instead. Maybe it some kind of troll mating call.

Good luck to the guy with his project, and if he gets the time how about adding a few inputs to the big sums for an intergalactic black hole billiards sim :)

Got to go and read up on the cell again, that is one serious MF of a processor. Around the same time the PS3 was released IBM had a server on offer with the cell processor for something like 3000 squids, not sure if and how much now though. If anyone dares to suggest the 360 can challenge the PS3 for big sums power they can suck IBM's big, fat blue one ;)

cheers

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Coat

Re: imagine if...

<quote>

Ok ... so Sony sell the PS3 at a loss .. right? So what would happen if EVERYONE bought a PS3 did this with it and didn't buy any games?

/me dreams

</quote>

We could write some software for this problem and run it on this cluster?

;-)

Nah, don't need a coat, got my portable patio heater with me.

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Alert

If only...

This sort of thing wouldn't happen if only someone would actually release a decent game for the system.

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@Mark

While the main Cell SPUs can indeed communicate with the RSX to read from the latter's 256Mb pool, it's PAINFULLY slow to do so - 16Mbps. No, that's not a typo; it would be faster to use swap on the hard drive.

There was a whole bunch of scaremongering around launch about this meaning the PS3 was 'broken', but in reality it's just not something that you ever do in practice. Also, as the AC notes, it's something only game coders are allowed to do, as the hypervisor for the Linux environment blocks off that particular pool completely.

Gravity simulations, like game physics calculations and rendering, involve a large number of iterative calculations on reasonably small datasets, and so are ideally suited to the Cell architecture.

Which is all a bit of a pity, as it's just _so_ tempting to make a joke relating to the fact that a PS3 is even heavier than the original XBox, and the rest of my post is rather boringly sensible now.

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Anonymous Coward

An XBox 360 cluster would do the job better.

So there.

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@Andrew

There are several games on the PS3 that qualify as 'Decent'. There may, or may not, be anything that appeals to you personally, but the suggestion that none of them are good on the semi-objective criteria that reviews use is silly.

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Anonymous Coward

Plainly anal

Who TF needs to simulate a black hole? Game of Life is what it's about.

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@ Andrew

Call Of Duty 4, Burnout Paradise, Gran Turismo Prologue, Uncharted, Singstar, Resistance.

These are some of the decent games you have clearly missed. Maybe they were on a shelf too high for your little troll arms

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@Steve

No PCIe Cell cards because the vendors are milking it for every dollar they can when used in a computation market. I've pursued companies that sell the beastie in rack mount boxes for a PCIe card product, but all I get back is "Oh, we have this lovely development system for you to buy - it's only $15000", or "No, you have to buy a blade system! It's the only way!"

For a product that was launched with much hype about network- and ubiquitous computing the product lines are a bit of a disappointment.

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Joke

RE: An XBox 360 cluster would do the job better

...well it would be more fun, you could get your mates round to bet on which one would RROD first. With 16 in the same stack you'd be pretty much guaranteed to have one die before you could get the beers in...

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Jobs Horns

20 Stacked iPhones to equal 1 giant Etch-o-sketch ...

and one old fashion crank-up tele.

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@Andrew

This sort of thing would happen with 360s if they didn't keep dying.

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Anonymous Coward

Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmm, I'm lovin' it

Now that's smart.

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Bronze badge

story on PS3 cluster

The key word or consideration noticeably missing from the mention by those who advocate using Nintendo wii or Microsoft Xbox 360 (other than in jest) is use of GNU/Linux - which is fully suitable for such project, but totally unavailable on either alternative platforms and certainly infinitely more powerful and scalable than any OS from Microsoft - period.

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Tom

@ Steve,

You show me a riser kit with the bus spec required, there'd be nothing that could stop the overflow from bottle neck produced, save a stupidly humungous L2 cache, but then you'd still be waiting for that to clear.

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Boffin

Cell

Ah ... I just hope this picks off well enough so we can get Cell-based servers ... or even better, Cell-based PC's and finally break away from the bloody x86 curse.

Shame on Apple for ditching PPC and killing the last mainstream non-Intel desktops!! At least the PS3 can be made to work like that ;)

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