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Xbox 360's Processor Delivers Budget Supercomputing

Illustration for article titled Xbox 360s Processor Delivers Budget Supercomputing

A team of researchers pulled off some supercomputing on the cheap using a single Xbox 360's graphical processing unit, instead of an array of processors operating in tandem, the BBC reports.

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The researchers, at the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom, think they're the first to repurpose the processors as an inexpensive substitute for "parallel processing," - when multiple processors work together to provide powerful number crunching capacity.

In this case, a researcher built a system using a 360 Graphical Processing Unit to help him model how electrical signals in the heart moved around damaged cardiac cells. The researcher, Dr. Simon Scarle, had previous worked as a software engineer for Rare.

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Put simply, Dr. Scarle said that he modified the chip to perform calculations other than graphical ones. The result wasn't "quite the full whammy of a cluster," of processors, "but it's close," he said.

"In the case of my research, rather than calculating the position of a structure and texture it's now working out the different chemical levels in a cell," Dr. Scarle said.

The BBC's report notes that the PlayStation 3's processor technology can be found in Roadrunner, the world's fastest supercomputer, and the console participates in the Folding@home project, which links up idle PCs and PS3s to perform parallel processing tasks in researching diseases.

Scarle said the 360's GPUs could be linked up into a cluster to provide even greater numbercrunching power, but "you would have to go over the internet - through something like Xbox live - rather than a standard method. However, without development tools, it wouldn't be easy."

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Xbox Speeds Up Research Results [BBC, thanks Christopher G.]

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DISCUSSION

Still, IBM chose to use the Cell in Roadrunner, not Xbox's ATi GPU...

I feel (and as the guy doing this is ex-Rare) that this may be part publicity stunt than anything. Cos it's not like the PS3 has been used for F@H for donkeys, its the GPU, so it's a GPGPU app, not really much new there, and the 360's GPU in terms of price to power ratio is just plain pants. it's 4 years old for god sakes.

You can pick up a GTX265 for £100 (and get a free copy of Batman), so you get CUDA, and thus don't even need to make your won 360 compatible api.