Aside from powering some of this holiday season’s most
impressive games and providing playback of high-definition movies, the Cell Broadband
Engine is also exceptionally adept at medical and scientific applications
requiring massive amounts of floating-point computational power.
Since joining Stanford University’s Folding@home
program in March, the PlayStation 3 has led
all processors in sheer productivity numbers.
It should come as no surprise that Sony announced this week that PlayStation 3
consoles all over the world have helped the Folding@home project to reach a
petaflop, a milestone never before reached on a distributed computing network.
"The recent inclusion of PS3 as part of the Folding@home program has
afforded our research group with computing power that goes far beyond what we
initially hoped," said Vijay Pande, Associate Professor of Chemistry at
Stanford University and Folding@home project lead. "Thanks to PS3, we are
now essentially able to fast-forward several aspects of our research by a
decade, which will greatly help us make more discoveries and advancements in
our studies of several different diseases."
"When we introduced PS3, we knew its incredible processing power would
allow for a great deal of innovation and creativity," said Jack Tretton,
president and CEO of SCEA. "It's extremely rewarding to see that the
scientific community has found a way to harness PS3 technology for humanitarian
purposes and we continue to be amazed at what gamers and the Folding@home
community have been able to accomplish in such a short amount of time."
The Folding@home program runs simulations in protein folding, helping
scientists understand – and hopefully curing – diseases such as Alzheimer's,
Parkinson's and certain forms of cancer. That’s not all the PS3’s CPU is able
to do for the medical community, though, as the Cell Broadband Engine is also helping doctors at
Mayo Clinic with medical imaging.
quote: When it comes to pure performance though, the PS3’s Cell Broadband Processor is still no match for ATI GPUs for protein folding. The GPUs on Folding@home sit at 41 current TFLOPS, which come from only 700 processors. If there were as many GPUs folding as there are PS3s on the network, it can be extrapolated that GPUs could reach 876 TFLOPS.
quote: What type of calculations the PS3 client is capable of running? The PS3 right now runs what are called implicit solvation calculations, including some simple ones (sigmodal dependent dielectric) and some more sophisticated ones (AGBNP, a type of Generalized Born method from Prof. Ron Levy's group at Rutgers). In this respect, the PS3 client is much like our GPU client. However, the PS3 client is more flexible, in that it can also run explicit solvent calculations as well, although not at the same speed increase relative to PC's. We are working to increase the speed of explicit solvent on the PS3 and would then run these calculations on the PS3 as well. In a nutshell, the PS3 takes the middle ground between GPU's (extreme speed, but at limited types of WU's) and CPU's (less speed, but more flexibility in types of WU's) .
quote: it's just a matter of how much time you need to accomplish that.