Government funding for scientists is hard come by these days, due to this many have looked to other ways to keep their research alive and well.
Dr. Gaurav Khanna is one of these people, he has created a budget supercomputer out of PlayStation 3’s in order to study black holes and gravitational waves.
Supercomputers are useful tools because they can crunch massive numbers and solve calculations that are too big for a single processor. As Khanna explains to New York Times, supercomputers perform at least 10 times better than single desktop computers, but they are extremely expensive to build. Normally, supercomputers are constructed by linking together a large number of processors, such as standard computers. However, Khanna decided to use PS3s rather than desktops to build his model, partly because of their low cost (around $250), and partly because users can install their preferred operating system.
Sony donated four consoles to the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth black hole physicist after he contacted them, he then bought 4 out of his own back pocket and the university funded another 8. He then hooked them up, installed Linux on all them and connected them to the internet creating his low price supercomputer.
Two years on, he was able to show in a published paper that his invention could speed up calculations by a factor of almost 10 compared to a traditional desktop computer. That same year, he published a paper detailing the behavior of gravitational waves arising from rotating black holes.
He has been contacted by Air Force Research who had been looking into PS3 made supercomputers. They donated 176 consoles which helped Khanna create a supercomputer more powerful than 3000 laptops. The supercomputer also only cost $75,000 which is a fraction of the price of a normal supercomputer. He is due to be sent another 220 consoles this year to help him publish even more papers on his black hole study.
Unfortunately, these PS3 supercomputers will always be limited in terms of memory, which is significantly smaller than traditionally built machines. That’s why Khanna is now looking at using PC graphics cards, which are much more powerful than PS3s but still an inexpensive option.
by Andy Leavy