It has been more than a year since I wrote my first article about awesome computing power of the Sony PlayStation 3; and almost as long since it was released for sale. I’m more than happy to discover that I was not the only one to recognize the punch packed by this little gem. Gaming machines have pushed technological boundaries for years, but I don’t believe any have done so to the extent of the PS3.

The IBM/Sony CELL architecture was lauded widely; but there was surprisingly little public focus given to its computing potential in the body of the PlayStation. It is not uncommon for game boxes to be hacked to unleash their processors for broader purposes; but this is hardly an approach that can address the broader geek public who just wants ready access to phenomenal computing power. This time is different. This box, arguably the most powerful computing platform available to the public through general outlets, can be used directly as a PC, but with a 3.2 GHz PowerPC 970 at its heart, and 6 little vector processing slaves to do its bidding.

Certainly, I am not the only one who has been impressed by this machine, as this recent article over at illustrates. What I had not recognized prior to reading this article (and watching the video below) was that Sony has intentionally made this phenominal computing power available to any who wish to use it; with no additional charge to do so! A freely downloadable YellowDog Linux distro was commissioned by Sony for the box. Of course if the size of the 3.7Gig download, and the ensuing DVD creation is too daunting, you can buy the ready-made DVD for $99; or a PS3 with Linux pre-installed for $549.

The following video gives more.
Terra Soft carries its commitment to high-performance PS3 computing even farther by selling an 8-node, 1 tera-flop PS3 cluster for $17,500 or a 32-node, 5T cluster for just 2.5 times that price. This brings true super-computing performance well within the reach of small enterprise. Consider that in the November 2001 list of the fastest super-computers on Earth, having 5T of peak computing power would have placed you at number 3!. Now imagine that what could have once been the third fastest computer on Earth, just 6 years later, has been miniaturized to fit on a half-rack or small shelf, and can be yours for well under $50K; and as it runs under open-source linux; also now has thousands of high-power applications available from commercial and open-source venues.While TerraSoft’s offerings are impressive, there are other paths to Linux on PS3. Although it is linked from the article mentioned above, I could not in good conscience omit the link to the white paper entitled “A Rough Guide to Scientific Computing on the PS3”. This paper provides easy reading, though lengthy, performance data regarding the use of this game box as a computing platform, including its weaknesses. It also discusses some of the other Linux distributions that can be installed, and even provide an installation and configuration tutorial for Fedora. This paper is a must-read for anyone interested in using the PS3 for general computing; and doubly so if you wish to use it for any kind of application development.The future of the PS3 and the CELL processor will certainly be interesting. For all of its available computing horsepower, the PS3 is running crippled, with one of its SPE cores disabled. This means that as chip yields improve, Sony should be able to increase system performance 15% by simply turning on that SPE. The next generation CELL is slated to fix the chip’s largest failing, non-pipelined double-precision floating point. Will Sony incorporate this fix? Is it relevant to the primary purpose of the PS3, playing games?What else can I say? I gotta get me one of these machines! And then, with a little luck, maybe I can also get some time to exploit it; of course that means first I’ll need to tear myself away from from of the best game graphics ever to hit the market. Oh, the agony!

About Max H:
Max is a father, a husband, and a man of many interests. He is also a consulting software architect with over 3 decades experience in the design and implementation of complex software. View his Linked-In profile at