Mercury intros Cell accelerator board for PC workstations

Boston (MA) - If you are attracted by the processing power of the Cell processor, but don't want to give up your existing PC environment or invest in a completely new workstation environment, Mercury may have a solution for you: The company offers a PCI express accelerator board with Cell processor that promises a whopping 180 GFlops performance boost.

The Cell accelerator board, short CAB, is another step to a commercial availability of the promising processor technology developed by IBM, Toshiba and Sony. According to Mercury, the device in fact is the first Cell-based product that can be bought outside of prototyping programs on a regular basis.

The CAB is built in a PCI Express ATX form factor and offers similar functionality as for example Clearspeed's PCI-X accelerator board. But while Clearspeed offers a solution that requires a supporting host processor - such as a main AMD Opteron or Intel Xeon chip - the CAB allows users to load a Linux OS directly onto the board and operate as a standalone solution. Also, Mercury claims the 2.8 GHz board will deliver about 180 GFlops, while Clearspeed rates its CSX600 processor-based board at about 50 GFlops. Compared to workstations that integrate Opteron, Pentium or PowerPC processors, Mercury says that its Cell systems will deliver about 15-30 times the floating point performance and in some scientific applications may be up to 100 times faster.

Mercury has begun offering the Cell "CAB" board in sample quantities for about $8000; the Clearspeed device sells for about $7000.

Sony is expected to become the first company to offer a more affordable Cell product with the introduction of its Playstation 3 game console later this year. Mercury plans to introduce "production release systems" in September of this year. According to the company, prototype systems have been shipping since September 2005 to customers in medical imaging, industrial inspection, supercomputing, semiconductor design and manufacturing, and defense-industry signal processing. Mercury's technical director Robert Cooper told TG Daily that prototypes used Cell processors clocked at 2.4 GHz and that production systems will integrate 3.2 GHz processors.

Pricing of the production release systems has not been announced.

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