How to build a supercomputer for less than $50k
Answer: buy 70 PlayStation 2s and hook them up via a Hewlett-Packard switch. NCSA engineers have just done it, and it works. “It took a lot of time because you have to cut all of these things out of the plastic packaging,” said Craig Steffen, a senior research scientist at the center, who is one of four scientists working part time on the project. According to the Times report, the NCSA scientists “are taking advantage of a standard component of the Sony video-game console that was originally intended to move and transform pixels rapidly on a television screen to produce lifelike graphics. The chip is not the PlayStation 2’s MIPS microprocessor, but rather a graphics co-processor known as the Emotion Engine. That custom designed silicon chip is capable of producing up to 6.5 billion mathematical operations a second.”
But now comes the really interesting bit. Why did they choose the Playstation? Answer: “The supercomputing center scientists said they had chosen the PlayStation 2 because Sony sells a special Linux module that includes a high-speed network connection and a disk drive.
By contrast, it is almost impossible for researchers to install the Linux system on Microsoft’s Xbox game console.
Using a network of machines is not a new concept in the supercomputing world. Linux, which plays a major role in that world, has been used to assemble high-performance parallel computers built largely out of commodity hardware components. These machines are generally called Beowulf clusters.”