The rise and fall of the PlayStation supercomputers

Dozens of PlayStation 3s sit in a refrigerated shipping container on the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth’s campus, sucking up energy and investigating astrophysics. It’s a popular stop for tours trying to sell the school to prospective first-year students and their parents, and it’s one of the few living legacies of a weird science chapter in PlayStation’s history.

Those squat boxes, hulking on entertainment systems or dust-covered in the back of a closet, were once coveted by researchers who used the consoles to build supercomputers. With the racks of machines, the scientists were suddenly capable of contemplating the physics of black holes, processing drone footage, or winning cryptography contests. It only lasted a few years before tech moved on, becoming smaller and more efficient. But for that short moment, some of the most powerful computers in the world could be hacked together with code, wire, and gaming consoles.

The PlayStation 3 and its Linux compatibility were going to change everything. Back in those days, it was pretty much guaranteed that on every thread about some small, alternative operating system, someone would demand PS3 support, since the PS3 was going to be the saviour of every small operating system project.

Good memories.


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