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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.