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Physicist Studies Black Holes Using 200 Networked PS3s

by Jeff Cork on Dec 23, 2014 at 04:02 AM

Many of us have upgraded to the latest generation of console hardware, but that doesn't mean our old systems are useless. In addition to still being able to play a variety of excellent games, people are using them in ways that manufacturers may not have anticipated. Take a physicist at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, who has rigged 200 PlayStation 3 consoles together to study black holes.

According to The New York Times, Dr. Gaurav Khanna configured Sony's systems together to create a low-cost supercomputer. His array, which he first constructed in 2007 with 16 consoles, has grown to 200. One of the reasons Khanna chose the PS3 is because users can install alternate operating systems on it such as Linux. And then there's the matter of cost.

“Science has become expensive,” he said. “There’s simply not that much money going around, either at the university or the federal level. Supercomputing allows scientists to make up for the resources they don’t have.”

Khanna uses his supercomputer in his research, which centers on gravitational waves and black holes. Since scientists are unable to see black holes with telescopes, they're forced to simulate the waves they generate using computational models.

The article goes on to say that Khanna's initial work inspired the Air Force Research Laboratory in its own work, which in 2010 incorporated 1,716 networked PS3s.

[Source: The New York Times]

Thanks for the news tip, Mark!


Our Take
PlayStations have had a consistent connection to supercomputing for more than a decade. When the PlayStation 2 was new, there were reports that Saddam Hussein had imported 4,000 of the consoles to Iraq in an effort to get around trade embargoes. The veracity of those claims has been disputed, but researchers did network multiple PS2s together in a similar fashion.