IBM Still Developing Cell Processor; Loves Games

There was a huge buzz about the Cell Broadband Engine chip surrounding the time of the PlayStation 3 launch. It was a radical chip that was co-designed by the brains at IBM, Sony and Toshiba.

While the Cell/B.E. has its widest and strongest use in the PlayStation 3, IBM says that the processor is still being worked on for future applications.

"I think you'll see [Cell] integrated into our future Power road map. That's the way to think about it as opposed to a separate line -- it'll just get integrated into the next line of things that we do," said Jai Menon, CTO of IBM's Systems and Technology Group. "But certainly, we're working with all of the game folks to provide our capabilities into those next-generation machines."

IBM right now has its hand in all the gaming consoles, with PowerPC-based chips inside the Wii and Xbox 360 and the Cell inside the PS3. There are strong bets that IBM will continue its relationship with one of those platform holders into the next generation.

IBM also offers Cell processors for the industrial market in its blade servers, but it's clear that the gaming business is bringing in enough cash to make it worthwhile. Menon said that IBM has a great desire to stay in the video game hardware business.

Another avenue is cloud play. Perhaps what IBM is thinking of is similar to OnLive of Gaikai – or maybe it's what Sony was preaching with the PS3 being able to tap into the power of a Cell-powered TV or toaster.

"Some of this consumer stuff is also a cloud play. There are giant servers out there that provide some of the gaming capability. Some of that will come through cloud-based offerings as well," Menon added.

The Cell may not have been the most developer-friendly architecture when it was introduced in the PS3, but we'd be surprised to not see some form of it live on in a future games console.

Read more at PC World.

Marcus Yam
Marcus Yam served as Tom's Hardware News Director during 2008-2014. He entered tech media in the late 90s and fondly remembers the days when an overclocked Celeron 300A and Voodoo2 SLI comprised a gaming rig with the ultimate street cred.
  • bdcrlsn
    If only they released the Cell for personal PC use...
  • amnotanoobie
    bdcrlsnIf only they released the Cell for personal PC use...
    Good luck loading your Windows/Mac OSX on it. The only desktop OS I've heard that could run on Cell is Ubuntu.
  • Flameout
    i've seen games on xbox360 and they look the same as my ps3. what's so great about cell?
  • Niva
    amnotanoobie: Ubuntu is a flavor of linux, any linux kernel powered OS which can run on cell will run just fine on it. Matter of fact I'm not even aware of Ubuntu having a Cell/BE variant but I'll take your word for it. There are other linux distros specifically for that though. I do run Ubuntu and have been for years now, but it still cracks me up when people say Ubuntu these days while they really mean the all-encompassing linux label.
  • iam2thecrowe
    i swear toms published an article about the cell processor a while ago stating they were not going to be making it anymore.....
  • kronos_cornelius
    I'm not sure the Cell chips is competitive with the x86 arch performance-wise. For what I've read, should have gotten credit for the start of the GPU coprocesing wave we are starting to see now. That because the Cell has SMP units.

    Ubuntu is almost synonymous with Linux these days. I used to try out different distros back in the day (Suse, Debian, Fedora). Now I lean toward Ubuntu because there is so much help in the forums for Ubuntu. If you really wanted to get strict on the naming, then you would have to say Linux/GNU OS.
  • Ragnar-Kon
    Considering the reason why I now use predominately Windows machines instead of Macs is because Apple switched from Power to x86 processors. PowerPCs just performed MUCH better for the tasks I wanted to do than an Intel processor.

    And I think it is time for something to challenge the x86 / x86-64 in the general consumer computer market, and a Power ISA processor could do that. Clearly Microsoft and Apple (as well as the Linux world) are keen on using Power-based processors, since Microsoft uses it in their XBox, and Apple previously had been using Power-based processors for years. (To be honest the only reason why I think Apple moved to x86 processors is because they can sell the "we can run Windows too!" point)

    If is smart about it, and manages to get the major operating systems on board, they could easily make a huge mark on the PC market. I personally wouldn't mind seeing CPUs with the IBM/Freescale logo on it inside my computer. (And if AMD is smart about it, they'll use their previous relationship with IBM to get some Power-based CPUs with their logo on it.)
  • compton
    I wondered about the cell. I remember the hype surrounding the PS3 launch and recounted in this article. I wasn't sure what ever became of it aside from the PS. It sounds like it could be useful in a low power setup, maybe you could make some kinda Linux/Cell powered competition to the Atom. I mean, the PS3 already kinda is, except the low power part. I always wanted to try installing Linux on my PS, but didn't try it before updates killed the official option.
  • micr0be
    it is important to note that the cell has an architecture designed from the ground up based on SPE (synergistic processing elements) these SPE cores behave differently then standard x86 architecture and are made to be superior in intense gaming mathematical calculations and NOT general day to day multi-tasking and general computing capabilities.

    comparing the Cell processor to either Intel or AMDs current x86 line up would yield extremely poor performance for the former.
  • exodite
    The Cell may be interesting from a hardware perspective but unless it's easy, trivial even, to leverage its power into software and user experience it'll continue to elicit shrugs for the foreseeable future.

    I'd actually be surprised if the PS4, whenever it arrives, uses the same architecture. Unless it's aiming to be backwards-compatible, unlikely as that may be.