A glimpse of the Cell processor

Armonk (NY) - IBM and Sony powered-on the much hyped "Cell"-processor and used the opportunity to provide a few details about the chip. The firms expect the chip to deliver supercomputing performance to computing and consumer electronic devices, such as Sony's upcoming game console PlayStation 3.

If IBM and Sony keep their promise, developers of digital content soon will be able to have access to much more capable workstations than today. According to the firms, a one-rack server equipped with a Cell processor system will march with a performance rating of 16 TFlops deep into supercomputer territory, putting it into the top 10 of the currently 500 fastest supercomputers.

"Our collaboration with Sony is leading to a new era of innovation in the semiconductor and computing industries," said Colin Parris, vice president of product management of IBM Systems and Technology Group. "The supercomputer-like processing and performance of the Cell processor-based workstation is just the beginning of what we expect will be a wide-range of powerful next-generation solutions resulting from our joint development efforts."

"Current PC architecture is nearing its limits," added Ken Kutaragi, executive deputy president and chief operating officer of Sony

The Cell processor, a code name of the technology being developed for the past four years, is based on a 64-bit processor core and will be available in single-core and multi-core versions. The firms said that the chip will support several operating systems for consumer electronics and HDTV's. Pilot production of the Cell processor is scheduled to launch in the first half of 2005 in IBM's 300mm wafer facility in East Fishkill (NY) with ramp-up of the processor to follow later that year or early 2006.

According to Sony, a "prototype workstation" is the first computing application planned for the Cell processor. "The Cell processor-based workstation will totally change the digital content creation environment," said Masayuki Chatani, corporate executive and CTO at Sony Computer Entertainment (SCEI). According to Chatani, the chip will offer opportunities to develop "all kinds of digital entertainment content, from movies, broadcast programs to next generation PlayStation games".

The next generation of the PlayStation game console will likely be one of the first products to be equipped with the Cell processor and likely will be first demonstrated at the E3 conference in May of next year. Sony and Toshiba will ship HDTV's with the Cell processor in 2006, according to a statement.

More details about the processors will be revealed at the International Solid-State Circuits Conference, which takes place in San Francisco in February 2005.