Ranked as the 33rd largest supercomputer in the world at the time, the “Condor Cluster” was built by the US in the Air Force Research lab using 1,760 Playstation 3 consoles. Located in New York, the system was built for radar enhancement, image processing satellite and AI survey.
The console was chosen for its efficiency in handling high resolution graphics, as well as its overall accessibility. The “Condor Cluster” would include 168 separate graphics processing units and 84 parallel-array coordination servers capable of performing 500 trillion floating point operations per second (500 TFLOPS).
While the PlayStation 3 cost about $400 at the time (about €336), it is reported that the AFRL was facing a $10,000 per unit expense for comparable technology built with conventional computer parts.
The PS3 was also ideal for its ability to run Linux, although this feature was later removed due to security concerns, interrupting potential future PS3-based cluster projects, this still stemming from Sony’s controversial decision to disable the “Install another” feature operating system” on PlayStation 3 consoles via a firmware update.
While most users were likely not affected by the change, those who were running a Linux distribution on their consoles were understandably irritated by the fact that Sony was withdrawing a feature it had announced when they bought its unit.
To date, the forum moderator, “lapetus”, from NeoGAF, at the time decided to solve the problem on his own by invoking European consumer protection laws in a complaint filed with Amazon, where he bought his PS3. The tactic earned him an £84 refund from Amazon without physically returning the console.
The law in question, Directive 1999/44/EC, is applied to retailers, not to product manufacturers, and states that the goods must “be suitable for the purpose that the consumer requires and that was made known to the seller at the time of the purchase.” Sony could argue that the firmware update was not mandatory or that it changed the console’s software rather than its hardware resources.
Prior to the AFRL project referred to, Gaurav Khanna, from the physics department at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, built a similar machine using nearly 200 PlayStation 3 consoles.