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November 17, 2010
ROME, NY, Nov. 17 -- The Air Force Research Laboratory Information Directorate at Rome, NY, will conduct a ribbon cutting Dec. 1 on a most unlikely supercomputer: a cluster of 1,760 Sony PlayStation 3 processors and 168 general-purpose graphical processing units.
Nicknamed the Condor Cluster, the PlayStation 3 processors are linked with some more conventional equipment. By effectively adapting advanced gaming technology already on the market, the military has leveraged off-the-shelf equipment into remarkably affordable supercomputing, AFRL Information Directorate officials said.
"AFRL Rome's ribbon cutting will be a significant event in the history of supercomputing," said Mark Barnell, director of AFRL's High Power Computing. "Condor is a 500 TFLOPS supercomputer."
"FLOPS" refers to FLoating point OPerations per Second, essentially "instructions per second. One teraflop or TFLOP is one trillion floating point operations per second, the common measure for measuring supercomputing speed.
"Such capability exceeds any other interactive supercomputer currently used by the Department of Defense," Mr. Barnell noted. A total of 84 dual, six core server processors function as headnodes, each coordinating the operation of 22 PS3s, to drive the Condor.
The gaming marketplace has eagerly funded research and development for their products, resulting in very affordable yet powerful mass-marketed game systems. The military has discovered that this commercial technology is a quickly reachable low-hanging fruit for its own applications.
The Condor system will be freely available to all DoD users on a shared basis. Mr. Barnell notes that the initial projects scheduled include neuromorphic artificial intelligence research, synthetic aperture radar enhancement, image enhancement and pattern recognition research. The system will be able to accomplish a wide variety of supercomputing tasks for a fraction of the typical investment.
"The total cost of the Condor system was approximately $2 million, which is a cost savings of between 10 and 20 times for the equivalent capability," according to Mr. Barnell.
The Condor will also consume less than one-tenth the power of comparable supercomputers making it a "green" supercomputer, officials said.
Source: Air Force Research Laboratory
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