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Multiple PS3’s Working Together

Mike wrote me asking about PS3 clusters (edited for clarity):

It seems from what I’ve heard that multiple PS3’s can be connected together through their ethernet port to double, triple, etc. the PS3’s power. Do you know anymore details about this, and how it might be used? For example, could this mean that all of the PS3’s power could be doubled, like the GPU, or would this only apply to the cell processor? And, if this turns out that it can be done then, do you think that it could be possible that after the PS3 has been out for like a year or more that, some games might come out that say, “this game will only run with 2+ PS3’s?” If so, then the PS3 could honestly reach true life-like graphics, and there really wouldn’t be a reason to make another PlayStation. This is such an interesting feature that it is irresistable not to ask more about it.

When hyping up the Cell processor, statements were indeed made that multiple Cells could conceivably be hooked up together. This would provide an almost linear improvement in performance with each new Cell added. I say “almost” linear because there is additional communications and other overhead involved in connecting more than one CPU together, so when you have two processors, you might get, say, 1.8 times the speed. Three processors would give 2.6 times the speed, etc. In the talks of connecting multiple Cells, no mention was made of using the graphics chip in any way, though it must be noted that the Cell is plenty powerful enough to render great graphics without the RSX. For example, in the interview I mentioned yesterday, Mr. Chatani says “For example we showed the demo that renders London City, it’s not rendered in the GPU but the CELL does lighting and texture processing then outputs it to the frame buffer.” So for that demo, the graphics chip was bypassed entirely. So putting together several Cell processors would greatly increase the graphics computing power put to bear on a problem, even without a graphics processor. (That said, NVIDIA does have technology to use more than one graphics chip to solve an image, if I remember correctly.) I’m no technical guru, but I am a software developer. I don’t think there’s anything technically stopping game developers from connecting a couple PS3’s to increase the power for a task.

That said, I don’t think it’ll happen. How many people will have more than one PS3 to take advantage of all the effort required? Especially given the rumours that the PS3 will be an expensive console, I think it is very unlikely that many people would own more than one PS3. You could argue that if the software is there, people would buy more than one PS3. But that’s asking game developers to take a very large leap of faith that if they did develop something, people would pony up the dough for both the game and another PS3. Not gonna happen.

A more likely scenario is that Sony will just release the PS4 with several Cell processors in it. You heard it here first, folks!