Microsoft's popular gaming console, the Xbox 360, has been used by a team of researchers at the University of Warwick to perform complex calculations using the onboard ATI-based Graphical Processing Unit.
The group of scientists, headed by former Rare studio software engineer, Dr Simon Scarle, came up with a system that, according to the BBC, allowed him to "model how electrical signals in the heart moved around damaged cardiac cells".
In a nutshell, rather than displaying games, the Xbox 360 is being used for more pragmatic and non-entertainment related applications (ed : soon you will be able to use your console for your homework and your family budget).
Programming the Xbox 360, Dr Scarle added, was rather simple given the fact that ATI-based GPU uses High Level Shader language developed by Microsoft for used with DirectX.
It is not the first time that the processing power of gaming consoles have been used especially after they had acquired networking capabilities (as Scarle and his team used only one Xbox 360 though).
The PS2 for example has been use to guide nuclear weapons and used in super computer clusters like at the NCSA.
The old PS3 gaming consoles could be used in clusters of up to 32 nodes using Terra Soft Solution's Yellow Dog Linux. Unfortunately, Sony has removed the possibility to have a Linux OS on the cheaper PS3 slim.
As for the Xbox 360, although it is cheaper, it is significantly less powerful than the PS3 and less reliable than other consoles. Earlier this month, Squaretrade reported that nearly a quarter of all Xbox 360 consoles fail during the first 24 months.
The Xbox 360 uses a custom graphics processing unit called Xenos and designed by ATI. Work on Xenos yielded the Radeon HD series back in 2006 which means that this technology is already three generation old. ATI's next generation of graphics card is expected to be launched by the end of the month.