Monday, February 07, 2005 - Hardware The "Cell" next generation microprocessor - Hardware "PlayStation 3: Supercomputer-On-A-Chip
Sony's next iteration of the venerable PlayStation may be 'Cell-bound.'

Having concluded a record-breaking sales season during November and December 2002 on its PlayStation 2 video game system (selling over four million PS2 hardware units and more than 400,000 PlayStation 2 Network Adaptors), Sony is in the news again with regard to the next iteration of its PlayStation console, the PlayStation 3.

Destined by all indicators for a 2005 release, stories surround the PS3 pointing toward the incorporation of a complex microprocessor, a supercomputer-on-a-chip bearing the moniker 'Cell.' Being championed by the hardware triumvirate of IBM, Sony, and Toshiba, these companies have pledged $400 million to the project.

Cell, scheduled to hit the market in late 2004 or early 2005, differs notably from current processors. This finely crafted chunk of silicon will contain multiple chips within a single unit, and will be able to perform in excess of one trillion mathematical calculations a second. Put into perspective, that makes it approximately 100 times more powerful than a 2.5 GHz Pentium 4 CPU!

At present, the processor's design is still being held tightly under wraps, but sources indicate that in addition to its ability to deliver one trillion calculations per second or more of floating-point calculations, Cell will likely employ somewhere between four and 16 processor cores, or cells, per chip (hence the technology's label). Accordingly, while a game console might utilize a chip with 16 cores (some cores performing computational functions, others controlling audio and graphics), a less complicated 'appliance' like a set-top box would require fewer. At least, that's a pr�cis offered by Peter Glaskowsky, editor in chief of the influential industry newsletter 'Microprocessor Report.'

Cell computing will also facilitate a distributed style of networking that performs computing tasks in much the same way a cell phone network routes calls. Thus, for example, the PlayStation 3 will be able to use its broadband Internet connection to draw additional computing power from idle processors across the Internet. If still more horsepower is required, the PlayStation 3 can even tap into a home network to enlist support from other available machines. Put simply, Cell allows pieces of a computing task to be distributed among all available processors to harness their combined power. "

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