Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Cell: Future of Tomorrow's Computing?

I donno how many of you have interest in Computer Architecture, but
certainly I do have some. What is this Cell about? Simple answer is that it is a code name for a radically new processing core jointly developed by Sony, IBM & Toshiba which is going to power Sony's next generation gaming console Playstation 3.

Let us see how different it is. Generally I categorize gaming systems into two categories
  • Off-the-shelf systems
    • Built from standard components similar to PC
    • Relatively less modifications

  • Highly customized systems
    • Where base is some standard thing (Ex: CPU) but customized heavily
Lets see some of these systems.

Off-the-shelf Systems
  • M$ Xbox
    • A Intel Celeron 733 MHz CPU
    • A nVidia GeForce 3MX Graphics chip
    • Standard DVD-ROM support
    • 8 or 10GB ATA Hard disk
    • Standard PC compatible mother board and other components
    • You can buy a Xbox which will cost far less than a PC and run Linux on it. A cheap server on your network :-)

  • More any one??
Heavily customized Systems
  • Sony Playstation 2
    • A 128bit CPU Called Emotion Engine which is slightly modified MIPS III core running at 300MHz
    • Custom Graphics Synthesizer
    • I/O rocessor, which is a Playstation 1 chip!
    • Coustom board, standard peripheral interfaces
    • Standard CD-ROM & DVD-ROM support
    • One of the toughest gaming system for programmers due to its custom nature. Off late only
      developers are able to exploit full power of PS2

  • Nintendo Game Cube
    • A modified PowerPC 750 core running at 486 MHz
    • A custom file format and region locking on standard DVD-ROM media!
    • I think it also got a custom board and few other stuff
You can see Xbox is nothing more than a standard PC where is PS2 is some thing very proprietary. All of these guys used standard processor cores x86 (CISC), MIPS (RISC), PowerPC (RISC).

This time around IBM, Sony and Toshiba are looking at future processing core called Cell, which can do more and can be used across the broad spectrum of consumer devices ranging Gaming systems, High-end Digital TVs, Portable Media player, Graphic Design Workstation etc. One of the aspects of Cell is to do broadband computing, which means that several cells could be networked to get some computation done. It could be that your portable media player may be taking help idle Game console to get some job done!

IBM has move away from traditional processor architecture with Cell which promises to deliver some thing. Some of the features of Cell are
  • Running at more than 4GHz!
  • 10x speed up of applications!
  • OS independent (I guess they use Visualization)
  • Capable of 256GFLOPS and more

Hope Cell enables Playstation 3 to bring us more realistic games and Digital Entertainment.


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