The new PlayStation 3 isn't all about entertainment. That's the messageSony Corp. is trying to convey in announcing that the new game consoles - as powerful as the supercomputers of a few years ago - can help Stanford University researchers analyze complex human protein structures and perhaps find cures for cancer, Alzheimer's and other ailments.

Thousands of diehard gamers and entrepreneurs lined up to buy the sleek PS3 machines when they went on sale in North America on Friday. The European launch was delayed until March because of production problems.

Sony Computer Entertainment says that when Cure(at)PLAYSTATION 3 is launched, PS3 owners can register their machines with Stanford, download specially designed software and leave their machines online to process data when they're not playing.

It's modelled after programs where personal computers process high-volume data for signs of extraterrestrial life and other tasks. PCs already contribute to the Stanford medical research program.

Sony said data processing time can be up to 20 times faster with a global network of PS3s, which are fitted with advanced Cell processors that can perform billions of calculations per second.

The program will kick off after the PS3 becomes available globally, Sony said.