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We had no idea that the United States Air Force once made a supercomputer out of PlayStation 3s but yeah, they absolutely did. 1760 of them to be precise as Sony's console was a powerful machine capable of being harness for other projects. Who would have thought it?
War History Online has documented the incredible feat, which details why the Air Force turned to PlayStations in the first place. First of all, we have to look at another research team at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications that found how well the PlayStation 3 worked as a supercomputer.
During the era of the PlayStation 2, Sony released a Linux kit for the console so it could be transformed into a regular computer. Craig Steffen, a senior researcher at the NCSA tried to make a supercomputer of about 60-70 PS2s but they only worked "okay, it didn't work superbly well".
When the PlayStation 3 arrived, however, it was 37 times more powerful than the PS2 and the researchers found that it worked reliably with the Linux software so then you just hook them up together and boom, you have yourself a supercomputer. This PS3 application was similarly used by Gaurav Khanna from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth when he needed something to simulate theoretical astronomy.
To make a supercomputer powerful enough to withstand the processing power needed for Gaurav's work, you'd either need to spend millions on developing and creating a supercomputer or buy 176 PS3s. Turns out the latter was what the researchers decided upon.
Eventually, the Air Force needed a supercomputer for high-resolution satellite images and took inspiration from Khanna. Though, of course, they could spend as much as they liked on building a supercomputer from scratch, they instead used the PS3 because it was energy efficient. It's so energy-efficient that the final product, the Condor Cluster which utilised a huge 1760 PS3s, needed 10% of the power of an average supercomputer of the time did. When the Condor Cluster was built it was the 35th most powerful computer in the world and utilised an incredible five miles of wire to function. The Condor cost a relatively cheap $2 million to build as other supercomputers were 10 or 20 times that price.
Eventually, the project was discontinued but the PlayStation 3s were released back into the wild - some went to collectors and according to the original report, some even made it back to Khanna.
It seems that Sony's consoles aren't always used for gaming then, huh? It wasn't too long ago that there was a massive raid confiscating thousands of PlayStation 4s from a cryptocurrency farm as the owners were apparently stealing electricity from a nearby power plant. Sony is just making consoles that are too powerful for their own good.
Featured Image Credit: Sony / US Air Force
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