PS3 Cell Cluster for scientific computing

Our project members

Denis, François, Mauro and Jonathan (from left to the right).
Mauro Calderara - MPI & networking specialist; HFN developer
Jonathan Coles - HFN library developer
François Gaignat - SPU assembler expert and HFN developer
Stephan Gammeter - wildcard
Lukas Gamper - international supervisor, UC Santa Barbara ;)
Robin Krom - analyst
Kaspar Müller - supporter
Denis Nordmann - project pusher

Our supporters

David H. Bailey - Chief Technologist at Computational Research Dept., Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Berkeley

Anton Gunzinger - Professor at the Electronics Lab, ETH Zurich and Founder of Supercomuter Systems Ltd.

Rolf Jeltsch - Professor and Head of the Seminar for Applied Mathematics, ETH Zurich

George Lake - Professor at Institute for Theoretical Physics, University of Zurich

Wesley P. Petersen - Professor at the Seminar for Applied Mathematics, ETH Zurich

Matthias Troyer - Professor at the Institute for Theoretical Physics, ETH Zurich

Our Sponsors at ETH Zurich


How the story began

PS3 front view
In summer 2006 Wes Petersen presented in his lecture about parallel numerical computing the idea of using the extended GPU AGEIA PhysX (PCI card) for scientifc computing. But there was one huge hitch: AGEIA works with truncated IEEE numbers what might be okay for gaming purposes but not for scientific computing. So I kept track of it and went to the lecture on hardware design held by Anton Gunzinger, professor at ETH's Electronics Laboratory and founder of Supercomputing Systems Ltd. I talked with him about this idea and he came up with the PS3 and its fast Cell processor and told me that a former student of him built a small cluster with PS2 consoles. So I started googling and wikiing PS3 and the Cell processor, discussed the idea with other people and decided to go deeper into this subject.
On November 17, 2006 the PS3 was released in the US and after two weeks the prices on eBay dropped to a reasonable level so that I ordered on December 3 a PS3 20GB model in the US. One week later on December 11 I got it and started playing with it. But not as you might think now... First of all I had to upgrade the firmware to version 1.30 (this weekend to 1.31) and installed Yellow Dog Linux 5.0 (YDL) on it. This is a full featured Linux distribution from Terra Soft. I connected the PS3 to the internet and boom: SSH access works!