PS2's (ad infinitum, ad nauseam:-)

Robert G. Brown rgb at
Tue Dec 26 13:30:48 PST 2000

On Sun, 24 Dec 2000, Timm Murray wrote:

> <>
> >Hitler managed to build his 
> >"buzz bombs" with
> >1940's technology, 
> BTW--The SCUD missles Iraq used during the war were almost
> exact replicas of the V-2.
> Timm Murray
> -----------
> Microsoft:  Re-inventing square wheels

Precisely.  And gee, even WWII technology worked well enough to kill
people.  As the continuing discussion on this point clearly indicates,
restricting ANY kind of over-the-counter cpu these days because "it
might be used in a missile guidance system" is inane, absurd, and
slightly crazed.  An IBM PC (5 MHz 8088) is fast enough for the
ten-millisecond-or-less resolution decisions required for simple
guidance, just as it was fast enough to play "red baron" under the
original flight simulator (which is where I first learned to crash a
virtual plane).  A 500 MHz Celeron is 100x on raw clock and another
factor of 100 or so on CPU family speed increases over the 8088 -- maybe
50,000x faster/more powerful (with floating point rates from around 300
MFLOPS in L1 to 40-50 out of PC66 memory).  So, if indeed PS-anythings
are export restricted to any country at all, it is because somebody in
whatever nebulous branch of the government responsible for restricting
computer exports has been mixing PCP with their cocaine again.

As Eugene has pointed out, even the as-yet-vaporous PS2+ is likely to be
little better than then-current OTC PC hardware by the time it congeals
into Best Buy showrooms, and by the time one outfits it with enough
"stuff" to function as a node (e.g. lots of extra memory, a hard storage
device, etc.) it is likely to be no cheaper and less easily upgradeable.
Finally, it is and will likely remain yet another in a long line of
"specialty computers" that is optimized for one particular function and
suffers when applied in a general-purpose setting.

This is bad.  In my opinion (strictly my opinion) the following kinds of
hardware are a waste of time (often for their intended purpose):

  Internet appliances
  Newer game stations
  "Thin" clients (another form of internet appliance)

In most cases the cost of these specialty products is within a few
hundred dollars of OTC PC hardware that (with the addition of linux
and/or WinXX) can feature for feature duplicate their functionality AND
can run all sorts of interesting and useful non-specialized software.

This opinion has roots that run all the way back to the spectacular and
instructive downfall of the Wang word processor.  Arguably one of the
best specialized hardware products ever invented, it achieved
significant market penetration in the narrow transitional window between
the then-ubiquitous IBM Selectric typewriter and the soon-to-be
ubiquitous IBM PC (family, including clones).  However, PC's could do
word processing with e.g. Wordstar or PC-Write or Word Perfect AND they
could run Lotus 123 AND they could play Flight Simulator AND one could
write programs for basica and dream of fame and fortune as a software
hacker (a la Phillip Kahn).  On a Wang you could word process, or word
process, or if you really wanted -- word process;-), and even as simple
a matter as an upgrade to a better version of the underlying word
processing software/firmware was excruciatingly expensive and generally
cost one a full new piece of hardware.

Over the intervening years I've seen various thin/specialty clients come
and be ballyhoo'd in the print media, and I've seen 'em go just as
rapidly, killed off by the fact that PC's could do what they were
supposed to do for about the same money AND could do all sorts of other
stuff as well.  Even game stations have gone down before the UberPC one
after another -- they only survive as a genera by keeping their nominal
entry price point at $100-$200 (leeching off the family TV to avoid the
cost of a real monitor and pushing a lot of the peripheral interface
cost off onto aftermarket hardware upgrades and the software itself by
running off of glorified EEPROMs and coming in a brain-dead
configuration unless you buy additional hardware) while PC's have
managed to keep their no-monitor entry price point in the $400-600

My recommendation on the issue of the PS2/PS2+ and beowulfery is: Wait
and See (and in the meantime, don't waste time and energy worrying about
it).  If Sony decides to tackle the PC market from behind by ensuring
that the platform can function as a full linux PC with the full suite of
linux software instantly available for it, then it might well make a
decent beowulf node since most of the necessary work would be done by
the time the kernel and compilers existed to drive the rest of the port.
After that it would be a matter of rebuilding everything and perhaps a
bit of debugging -- a week or two of work at most for the former and
forever for the latter in the usual cycle.  However, it would be very
foolish (in my opinion) to get overly excited by the prospect of PS2(+)
nodes in a beowulf, as Sony would almost certainly have to raise prices
to PC levels to make any money selling only the hardware in competition
with other PC's. Not that I would mind if they materialize -- the more
the COTS options the merrier after all.

However, I have my own wish-list, and I'm not holding my breath for
anything on it as well.  I wistfully dream about Compaq dropping the
price of a top-of-the-line alpha box to $1000, Intel dropping the price
of GHz PIII's to that of 500 MHz Celerons (and junking the Celeron
altogether), and one of my secret fantasies is of the $300 128 MB PC
(less monitor, of course, but including a HD, floppy, network, CD, and
video card).  As memory prices continue to plummet, we are VERY close --
if hard disk manufacturers didn't always discontinue the smaller hard
drive sizes to maintain a $100 minimum price point, I do believe we'd
make it this very year.

Oh, and my deepest best fantasy is that one day >>every<< PC game in
Best Buy will come with a CD that contains a native linux version along
with any WinXX and/or Mac version.  That alone would be enough to make
Win2K the LAST version of Windows the world will ever see.


Robert G. Brown	             
Duke University Dept. of Physics, Box 90305
Durham, N.C. 27708-0305
Phone: 1-919-660-2567  Fax: 919-660-2525     email:rgb at

More information about the Beowulf mailing list