Air Force PS3 Supercomputer Screwed By Sony Killing Off Linux Support

from the don't-mess-with-the-air-force dept

Back in March, we wrote about Sony's bizarre decision to delete a feature on PS3's, that would let you install other operating systems. This was an advertised feature that, while not used by most PS3 buyers, was used pretty widely and creatively. In fact, we noted in that post that the US military had used PS3s to build a supercomputer. While Sony has now been sued for this form of bait-and-switch, Ars Technica checked in on the Air Force folks who built that PS3 supercomputer, and found out that they're not particularly happy about this development. While it doesn't immediately impact them (since their PS3s aren't connected to the network and don't need the upgraded firmware that will break the Linux support), it does mean that if machines break down and replacements are needed, the Air Force could be in trouble:
"We will have to continue to use the systems we already have in hand," the lab told Ars, but "this will make it difficult to replace systems that break or fail. The refurbished PS3s also have the problem that when they come back from Sony, they have the firmware (gameOS) and it will not allow Other OS, which seems wrong. We are aware of class-action lawsuits against Sony for taking away this option on systems that use to have it."
The article also details how this wasn't just a gimmick by the Air Force, but it really was a cheap and effective way of building a supercomputer -- significantly cheaper than other options. After comparing a bunch of different solutions, they found that there were only two options for the kind of performance they wanted: the PS3 option or a Xeon-based multithreaded system. But in comparing the cost, the Xeon system would be "more than an order of magnitude greater than the PS3 technology."

You would think that Sony would know better than to piss off the US Air Force.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Dementia (profile), May 14th, 2010 @ 4:45am

    Not like the Air Force is going to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike against Sony.

     

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  2.  
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    abc gum, May 14th, 2010 @ 4:48am

    Sony does not seem to care about what customers think. Sony has demonstrated this fact several times which received wide spread coverage. In the not too distant past, business types understood how public perception could influence the bottom line. Ahhh, the good old days.

     

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  3.  
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    Michael, May 14th, 2010 @ 5:07am

    Odd

    It seems odd that Sony would not handle each of these supercomputer uses individually and just work with them. It is one thing to anger the handful of users that actually used this feature, but when your product has been prominently displayed in several huge supercomputing clusters, it would have been easy enough to have an "Other OS Only" version of the firmware for these machines that you could install on any machines you were sending to this Air Force project or MIT.

    They should have been a bit more proactive on this...

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 14th, 2010 @ 5:16am

    From a purely business perspective I would think Sony is rather pleased with this. As far as I know, the actual hardware for all consoles is heavily subsidized by the manufacturers which then make up for the loss of revenue from hardware sales from the inflated prices of the games. All the research groups making clusters out of (relatively) cheap PS3s were not exactly the customers Sony was hoping for.

    Nonetheless, I believe Sony is in the wrong here and I hope the bad publicity will blow up in their face and cost them enough to make them reconsider before pulling something like this another time.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
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    Simon, May 14th, 2010 @ 5:21am

    My understanding is that the newer PS3 'Slims' don't have the Linux capabilities anyway, so they were already subject to a dwindling pool of available spares.

     

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  6.  
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    Michial Thompson, May 14th, 2010 @ 5:36am

    Quit claiming the subsidized the hardware

    AC#4, Sony may have been selling the PS3 at a loss, but just how much "value" was in the advertising that they received when the Air Force or MIT announced the projects involving the PS3? What about the import tariffs that they saved by claiming it to be a computer rather than a game system? The US Government subsidized a large portion of the cost of importing these "computers" that are now nothing more than game consoles...

    little mikee m always talks about these values, and I would have to guess that since your afraid to put your name behind your opinion your another one of little mikee m's worshipers, so you MUST actually see that value...

    Sony ADVERTISED these consoles as having this ability from the beginning, many of us purchased them for this function. I for one have NEVER played a single game on either of the three PS3's I own, but now for me to access the LEGITIMATE use of Linux on these consoles I am not forced to choose between future BluRay Releases or to Linux, and when I purchased these consoles I was promised BOTH options.

     

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  7.  
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    DesignSmith, May 14th, 2010 @ 5:38am

    over protection of current market cuts off diversified market

    Several university research centers have built simulation supercomputers using very much the same approach as the Air Force.
    http://www.unh.edu/news/cj_nr/2008/june/ds17space.cfm

    Sony may have thought the needs of a few modders was not worth the effort to be more careful with their upgrade, but in the process they may have cut off a new secondary market for their hardware that was just beginning to develop. And was potentially much larger than a few hobbyists.

    Perhaps there is an opportunity here from some enterprising folks to provide the refurbs and unit service to the Air Force and universities that Sony is not interested in.

    By trying to exercise firmer control over the end uses of their hardware, Sony may have turned it's back on an interesting marketing campaign opportunity. "PS3 - Powerful enough for the Air Force - powerful enough for you." The use in a cluster arrangement may have been unintended by Sony, but it could have been played to their advantage.

     

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  8.  
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    Tom Landry (profile), May 14th, 2010 @ 5:43am

    Given the number of companies/entities that have gone this route Sony would try to monetize it by selling extended support.

     

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  9.  
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    Greg, May 14th, 2010 @ 5:50am

    Re:

    I wouldn't be too concerned if there was a little 'accident' at Sony headquarters, though.

     

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  10.  
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    y0uf00bar, May 14th, 2010 @ 6:05am

    Advertising a feature, selling it, then removing it because users took unfair advantage of it, by installing non-propriety software, looks just like an anti-competitive and deceitful practice. It shows Sony cannot be trusted. If Sony objects because it does not get the extra revenue from machines sold below cost, as they were not used for a game platform, it could either bring out a more expensive version of PS3 that accounts for the difference, perhaps with hardware features to make it more attractive, or provide firmware upgrades with the extra OS support for a price. Product differentiation for different markets should be a sign of corporate sophistication, and its absences indicates a bullish stupidity and market unawareness. Perhaps there is a development cost to the extra OS support, and this was a simple lobotomised cost cutting. The number of pure game consoles probably far exceeds those used for esoteric purposes.

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 14th, 2010 @ 6:06am

    "...but it really was a cheap and effective way of building a supercomputer -- significantly cheaper than other options..."

    One of the first concepts you have to learn in business is that "cheap" isn't necessarily "cheap" if it can't be supported.

    The tech graveyard is littered with well meaning "cheap" solutions.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
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    interval, May 14th, 2010 @ 6:11am

    Re:

    No, but an almighty punishing first blow is exactly what Sony needs.

     

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  13.  
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    Tom The Toe, May 14th, 2010 @ 6:13am

    Cheap

    "The Cheap Comes Out Expensive"

     

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  14.  
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    CentralCoastRick, May 14th, 2010 @ 6:24am

    Clusters

    The hardware in these clusters typically rolls much faster than needed OS updates anyway. I suspect this is a 'let's try to get some techdirt exposure - doesn't matter if its poppycock.'

    The source article author (Alejandro Martinez-Cabrera) - a stringer - even 'uncovered' the dark secret that newer technologies are 10X faster than the cell.

    Could be that the lab failed to note the lessons of previous supercomputer generations - "Don't write software to fit the hardware - because it's going to be obsolete long before the software works!" There MIGHT be a story there!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
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    That Guy, May 14th, 2010 @ 6:33am

    Oooo Low blow there...

    "You would think that Sony would know better than to piss off the US Air Force. "

    Kinda distasteful.

     

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  16.  
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    Dementia (profile), May 14th, 2010 @ 6:47am

    Re:

    Would you mind expanding on how users took "unfair advantage" of it when being able to install linux was an advertised feature?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
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    Ven, May 14th, 2010 @ 6:51am

    Destruction of government property?

    Hypothetically if the Air Force sent a PS3 in for warranty service and got it back with an upgraded firmware could that count as destruction of government property?
    I would think the risk of criminal sanctions would cause Sony to make an exception for government owned PS3s.

     

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  18.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 14th, 2010 @ 7:15am

    Re: Oooo Low blow there...

    I totally missed that until you highlighted it.. It's actually funny.
    Maybe a little Fat Man or some Little Boy is just what Sony needs. LOL

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
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    fogbugzd (profile), May 14th, 2010 @ 7:28am

    Don't nerf me, bro!

    Sony's decision on the PS3 confirms my hesitation to buy any Sony product. These are the same people who decided that rookit DRM was a good idea.

    I did buy a Sony TV a few years ago, but back then TV's were basically a dumb box. Now I see any Sony product that can be hooked up to the Internet as something that may someday be nerfed. They think that they still own the stuff you bought from them, and that by nerfing the product they will somehow increase their profits. I would call them clueless, but I don't think that word is strong enough to explain this stupid decision.

    Any company could do this kind of thing, but Sony now has a strong track record firmly set in my mind now.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
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    Ross Nicholson, May 14th, 2010 @ 7:31am

    eh?

    Japanese people buy our air and defense technology and are our most loyal customers. SONY is a fine corporation that pays millions in US taxes every year. Most of us have driven Japanese automobiles. Let us vent our wrath upon the unhappy enemies of our country, not our best friends.

     

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  21.  
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    crade (profile), May 14th, 2010 @ 7:38am

    This is exactly why Sony wants to kill off Linux support.
    Sony's strategy relies on losing money on PS3 sales and hoping to regain it and more through game sales.
    Entities using the PS3 as a computer and not as a game system are harmful to them.

     

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  22.  
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    Overcast (profile), May 14th, 2010 @ 8:00am

    You would think Sony would want to capitalize on this and just start making PC hardware using very similar technology.

    But then, Sony's not been known for the best business decisions.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 14th, 2010 @ 8:15am

    in the end, sony sells the hardware at a loss in order to sell games. what the airforce did, while legal, was to take advantage of the under cost hardware being offered. so none of this is surprising. if the ps3 was so good of a unix machine that people are buying it and not using it for game, they are losing money. sony is in a no win situation on this one, i suspect whatever lawsuit they have to pay if found liable will be lower than the money they lose feeding non-gamers with cheap hardware

     

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  24.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 14th, 2010 @ 8:20am

    Re:

    Pity. It would do us all a world of good.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 14th, 2010 @ 8:34am

    Re:

    But then the mainstream media evolved into the censorship nonsense that we have now and businesses got used to the idea that they can do whatever they want and very few people would ever find out. The Internet is still new to them, they have to re - get used to the idea that people find out about their misdeeds. Of course they don't like it so they want to control the Internet just like they have managed to control everything outside the Internet.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
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    Timrobertson, May 14th, 2010 @ 8:38am

    omg!!! why are these articles still posted?
    anyone who knows the story knows that the 2.789 ps3 systems that were supplied to the air force were a $17.9 million contract with an added $8.9 million for future modified consoles..

    do you really think that they interviewed the air force in regards to the ps3 knowing how many things are going on in the military? wow stop the articles..

    MODIFIED UNITS built for the air force and another unmentioned military branch..they don't update like ours do they only get the stability updates wich are mandatory.

    the air force wouldn't be so easy going if sony really broke a $26 million contract..they would really stick to them..

    my brother is a Researcher in the air force he can't say much about what goes on with (radar/Algorithmic research) but what he can say is..why is the so called "interview" only provided by ars?

    this was just another faux article to get people going..

     

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  27.  
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    PRMan, May 14th, 2010 @ 8:41am

    Re: eh?

    People that break all my stuff quickly cease to be my best friend...

     

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  28.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 14th, 2010 @ 8:53am

    Re:

    "i suspect whatever lawsuit they have to pay if found liable will be lower than the money they lose feeding non-gamers with cheap hardware"

    and this is one of the problems in this country. The cost of fraud is less than the benefits one receives from fraud.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
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    crade (profile), May 14th, 2010 @ 9:23am

    Re:

    The reason people do this with playstations is because they are cheap. They are cheap because Sony sells them for less than it costs to make them in an effort to make money off selling games. If you take away the selling games part and just sell hardware for less than it costs you to make it, this strategy kinda sucks.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
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    DocMenach (profile), May 14th, 2010 @ 10:15am

    PS3 are no longer sold at a loss

    Uh, it seems that a whole bunch of you guys are still under the impression that Sony sells the PS3 at a loss. I have news for you: While the PS3 was sold at a loss when it first came out, the manufacturing costs of the PS3 have come down dramatically since then. As of July 2009 the manufacturing cost of the PS3 was down to around $240, so Sony is actually making a profit on every console sold.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
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    NAMELESS ONE, May 14th, 2010 @ 10:43am

    anyone have an issue wiht public funds buying game machines ot be used this way

    hold up your hand if you htink hte air force got what it deserves for buying game machines form a BAD corporation aka SONY "the root kit" PS3

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
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    RikuoAmero (profile), May 14th, 2010 @ 11:03am

    Dang IT

    Sergeant : "Sorry, General, but it seems our PS3 supercomputer is now f**ked".
    General : "Care to explain, Sergeant?"
    Sergeant : "Well, Sony released an update over the internet that took away Linux, the software we were using on the supercomputer. Now all they're good for is playing games. Which we don't do here".
    General : "Dang it! What was the supercomputer used for anyway?"
    Sergeant : "Simulating the after-effects of nuclear war, sir, on Asian countries".
    General : "So now we can't simulate, am I right?"
    Sergeant : "Yes sir"
    General : "Well, then nuke Sony headquarters. That'll do two things, it'll give us the research data we need, and teach those corporate b*st*rds that when you sell a product, you can't take features away". Don't worry about the media, I think the world will understand they had it coming."

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
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    Alan Gerow (profile), May 14th, 2010 @ 11:53am

    Re:

    It doesn't need to be supported ... just left alone.

     

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  34.  
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    Alan Gerow (profile), May 14th, 2010 @ 11:54am

    Re: anyone have an issue wiht public funds buying game machines ot be used this way

    *crickets*

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35.  
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    Alan Gerow (profile), May 14th, 2010 @ 11:59am

    Re:

    Sony USED to sell the hardware at a loss.

    The Air Force didn't take advantage of anything. Sony sold a product at a price that people would pay for it. Sony could have sold it for more, but then no one would have bought it. Sony's intentions & hopes on what happens after that sale are irrelevant. There is no good faith clause in a sales contract that says the buyer agrees that they will spend $X on games to help Sony out.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36.  
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    Cynyr (profile), May 14th, 2010 @ 12:55pm

    Re: Re:

    NOt only that but all of the current hacking on the cousole would not allow the running of pirate games, as you needed to be in "GameOS" for the correct environment to work. This did allow the use of the full hardware(in time) from inside of the OtherOS(linux), allowing highend homebrew, or *GASP* more codec support or even regular dvd upscaling...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37.  
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    chris (profile), May 14th, 2010 @ 1:07pm

    Re:

    From a purely business perspective I would think Sony is rather pleased with this. As far as I know, the actual hardware for all consoles is heavily subsidized by the manufacturers which then make up for the loss of revenue from hardware sales from the inflated prices of the games. All the research groups making clusters out of (relatively) cheap PS3s were not exactly the customers Sony was hoping for.

    selling hardware at a loss is a stupid business decision. companies would engender much more goodwill if they ended this stupid practice.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38.  
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    DocMenach (profile), May 14th, 2010 @ 2:31pm

    Re: Re: The PS3 is not sold at a loss anymore

    Chris, you apparently missed an important point that has been made by both myself, and a few others: The PS3 is not sold at a loss anymore

    They used to be, but the cost of manufacturing them has come down significantly since then. They now make a profit on each console, and have been for at least a year (Estimated cost to manufacture was $240 as of July 2009).

    Once more, to reiterate:
    The PS3 is not sold at a loss

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  39.  
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    The Groove Tiger (profile), May 15th, 2010 @ 3:18am

    Re:

    Or in this case, negative support: they take your working product and break it!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  40.  
    identicon
    If you see Kay, Sony!, May 15th, 2010 @ 7:56am

    Well, here's the deal. We have you hanging by your pubes, and you have a decision. Take the update, and lose your left nut, or refuse it, and lose your right nut. Have a nice day. --Sony

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  41.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 15th, 2010 @ 11:31am

    No one is forced to install the update. The newer ps3s (slim) never had the Linux feature so replacement machines aren't possible anyway.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  42.  
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    nasch (profile), May 16th, 2010 @ 11:22pm

    Re: Quit claiming the subsidized the hardware

    How do you expect anyone to take you seriously when you refer to Masnick as "little mikee m"?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  43.  
    identicon
    new, Jun 30th, 2010 @ 12:59pm

    O Tv Digital no PC consiste em transformar seu computador ou notebook numa completa central de entretenimento sem nenhuma burocracia ou complicação, basta que o seu computador tenha uma conexão com a internet com a velocidade mínima de 100kbps, não e necessário placa de tv ou vídeo 3D nem cabos os antenas.
    Com o Tv Digital no PC você terá 452 canais á sua inteira disposição 24horas
    www.tvdigitalnopc.com.br

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  44.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 5th, 2010 @ 1:10am

    For those that need/want firmware 3.15 (the last update before they removed the "Other OS"), it can be found at http://dus01.ps3.update.playstation.net/update/ps3/image/us/2009_1210_54ee80e14e479f8351a988eb9a4720 72/PS3UPDAT.PUP Grab it while you still can!

    Sure, you'll lose the PSNetwork ability by not giving up your Other OS option, but. . .

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  45.  
    identicon
    ppTheMart, Jul 27th, 2010 @ 11:11am

    This is completely false, research first you morons.

    Anyone using the PS3 for the purposes on a supercomputer have absolutely NO NEED to update their PSN. They will keep their Linux capabilities.

    You're an idiot.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  46.  
    identicon
    Ryan, Mar 7th, 2012 @ 3:45pm

    Yes Im Late

    If the Air Forces only concern is about when a PS3 breaks and they are not able to repalce it with a machine with the other OS software, then why not have an extra supply of them availble. It wouldn't make sense to wait til a machine breaks to either send it to sony or go out and buy a new one. This is the Air Force, they should have enough resources to have extra units available. Do they wait til their toner is empty before buying a new one. You always have extra stock of things in a company or in this case the Air Force. Its called being prepared. Obviously your are taking a chance by using cunsomer products instead of business products in large scale organization. I am sure the Air Force could find a company that can actually repair the machines correctly unlike the service Sony uses.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  47.  
    identicon
    Not an Idiot, Mar 7th, 2012 @ 4:09pm

    Re:

    Who's an idiot? All you had to do was read this article to understand the only concern the Air Force has with their PS3's. I'll even quote it so you don't have to actually read the article that you are commenting on.

    "We will have to continue to use the systems we already have in hand," the lab told Ars, but "this will make it difficult to replace systems that break or fail. The refurbished PS3s also have the problem that when they come back from Sony, they have the firmware (gameOS) and it will not allow Other OS, which seems wrong. We are aware of class-action lawsuits against Sony for taking away this option on systems that use to have it."

    We all know even if Sony made a exception to not upgrade the firmware for the Air Force, the refurbished systems have an extremly high failure rate. This is because they only fix the systems but don't take any steps to improve their reliability. You may receive a unit that only had its blu ray drive replaced and your ticking YLOD time bomb may go at any minute.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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