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