Tiny Cell Beats Intel Quad-core At Video

Taipei (Taiwan) - During Computex 2008 we had a chance to visit Corel’s suite at the Grand Hyatt hotel, which featured, at least as far as we know, the first third party demonstration of Toshiba’s SpursEngine 1000 (SE1000), an accelerator board based on the Cell BE processor. Despite the fact that Toshiba has trimmed down the chip, the performance potential is impressive.

Corel demonstrated the SE1000 on a special and Cell-optimized version of its DVD MovieFactory application, transcoding 1080p H.264 video to a smaller resolutions such as 480p. The SE1000 board was one of Toshiba’s sample boards, which were announced in April of this year.

The PCI Express x1 card houses a 65 nm Cell BE processor running at 1.5 GHz (compared to the 3.2 GHz in the Playstation 3) as well as four active SPE units (PS3: 8) and 128 MB XDR DRAM memory (PS3: 256 MB). Essentially, the SE1000 has about half the resources of the Cell engine in the PS3.

However, the demonstration results were quite spectacular. The video transcoding process takes about half as long on a SE1000 than on a 3 GHz Intel Core 2 Quad CPU. Keep in mind that this is a very specialized application, while the Core 2 Quad is a much more universal chip, but the simple performance potential is impressive nevertheless. Especially if you consider the fact that the accelerator consumes only 10 to 20 watts.

So, how much does this board cost? We don’t know. Following a first demonstration of the SE1000 last September, the product has been sampling including a middleware kit for an undisclosed amount since April. Don’t hold your breath that you will be able to buy this board sometime in the future: Toshiba so far said that it is only targeted at consumer electronics applications for now.

In February of this year Sony announced that scaling the Cell BE chip to 45 nm is underway, with the die-size of the chip expected to shrink by about 34%. The smaller chip is also expected to consume about 40% less power.

  • jimmysmitty
    As siad in the article, this is a very specialized software with the chip itself being very specialized. This is just like a GPU in the way that it is created just for specialized applications.

    It would be nice to see but I think it will be a while before we would see a PC part.
  • wh3resmycar
    "During Computex 20008 ...."

    article from the far far far future, nice :D
  • lopopo
    It always great ho hear about powerful hardware which we have no use for yet because software is not optimised....
  • gwolfman

  • alanmetzgar
    Note to author (Theo Valich) please research the hardware you like to use comparisons to.

    Martin Linklater. "Optimizing Cell Core", Game Developer Magazine, April 2007, pp. 15-18. (english) "To increase fabrication yelds, Sony ships PlayStation 3 Cell processors with only seven working SPEs. And from those seven, one SPE will be used by the operating system for various tasks, This leaves six SPEs for game programmer to use."
  • JonathanDeane
    I guess it would be like the Avivo software for using ATI video cards to transcode video (which also takes about half the time using hardware some people already own...)

    I guess some people will have a use for this, maybe it also does physics ?
  • Let me get this straight; the Cell beats the QX9650 (3.0GHz quad?) with a bit more then HALF the cores, LESS then half the maximum available bus speed at less then 1/10th the power consumption? I guess if overclocked, the Cell could potentially knock the pants off of a Skulltrail system with 2x9770's running the same app. O_o Hmph, I guess the Cell seems to show some promise afterall.

    PS: It would've been nice if the article had shed some more light on the specs of the test systems.
  • Oops, I meant less then half the power of the C2E, and not
  • pup
    "SpursEngine 1000 (SE1000), an accelerator board based on the Cell BE processor."

    OC the "SpursEngine" IS NOT the ORIGINAL PPC/Altivec based CPU as they replaced the 3gig PPC/Altivec with something else, i forget what.

    shadow said:"Of course it's(Cell) is going to beat a CPU! A more realistic comparison would be comparing GPUs to Cell. Comparing Cell to a CPU is like comparing Apples to Oranges."

    CELL IS a real CPU with Altivec SIMD that beats x86 clock for clock, plus with several extra SIMD processors so it IS comparable adn realistic to compare as above.

    the main reason im posting this now OC is to let you know that the newest PCi-E card is available apparently...


    The PowerXCell 8i Board “GigaAccel 180”

    "FeaturesFast execution times and arithmetic computation accuracy

    The PowerXCell™ 8i designed in 65nm is superior not only in single precision arithmetic but also in double precision arithmetic. It achieves 180 GFLOPS single precision and 90 GFLOPS double precision as the maximum peak performance. Therefore, it delivers the high performance in applications for scientific computation and financial calculation needed floating point type of double precision, in addition to image processing and signal processing which conventional Cell/B.E. has exceeded in.

    Massive 4GB main memory

    It has DDR2 of 4GB as main memory. It is very advantageous to high-speed processing of a large amount of data, such as the image/movie processing and codecs that need high-definition and real-time.

    Compatible with IBM Software Development Kit (SDK) for Multicore Acceleration v3.0

    Software Development Kit(SDK) for Multicore Acceleration v3.0 from IBM needed to develop Cell applications can be used. Compatibility with Cell/B.E hardware, for example IBM BladeCenter® QS21, QS22 and 1U Dual Cell-Based System from Mercury Computer Systems etc, is preserved.

    Yellow Dog Enterprise Linux as the Official Support OS

    Yellow Dog Linux is a Linux distribution dedicated to the Power architecture, which is the leading Linux OS for the Power architecture, supporting Apple PowerPC, IBM System p, and PLAYSTATION®3. Fixstars provides Yellow Dog Linux as the official, supported OS, coupled with enterprise level Linux support.

    2 gigabit Ethernet ports

    GigaAccel 180 has the two fastest gigabit Ethernet ports. Therefore one port can be used for communications with the host, letting the other one can handle external communications.

    PCIe virtual Ethernet driver compatible

    The wide bandwidth PCIe bus can be used as a virtual Ethernet, offering maximum 8GB/s (Physical bandwidth of PCIe x16) speed communication theoretically.(Only with Linux host)

    GigaAccel 180 Internal Structure

    *Part names are displayed when the mouse pointer is over the following image.

    GigaAccel 180 catalog(PDF:175KB)


    cant seem to put pictures in here so heres a direct link


  • mwsealey

    They didn't replace the PPU with anything, they just put 4 SPEs and an MPEG2 and MPEG4/H.264 encoder and decoder core on the chip to pick up the slack for the most common uses of the chip (digital media).

    The goal of the chip is to provide a peripheral (PCI Express) solution for using the Cell processor. The alternative you showed, is $9000. You would not be putting that inside a workstation or selling it at Best Buy. You would not pay $9000 for a settop box even if you needed those specifications.

    Cost effective, low power consumption devices like TV, settop, workstation acceleration (physics, rendering, AV processing) can be done just as well with SpursEngine as they can with Cell, just.. slightly slower. But you do not need to run a full Linux host on the SpursEngine, nor do you need an exorbitant amount of memory (since your host workstation will have plenty) nor do you need gigabit ethernet (since your host workstation will have plenty :)