Sony, Toshiba, and IBM probably didn't put much thought into using the Cell microprocessor as part of a Windows-based PC. Those of you unfamiliar with the Cell Broadband Engine Architecture likely know of its primary role in the consumer space as the CPU platform in the PlayStation 3 game console. You may also have heard about the U.S. Customs Enforcement Cyber Crimes Center using the PS3 running Linux to crack the passwords of suspected child pornographers. Indeed, the Cell processor is a very powerful component, and every Sony PS3 is rated for somewhere around 204 GFLOPS (single-precision float).
Admittedly, a gigaflop, which represents one billion floating point operations per second, is not a perfect metric, as these processors have different strengths and weaknesses. However, the number of gigaflops does give you an idea about the Cell's compute performance. When this article was written, the world's second-fastest supercomputer, the IBM Roadrunner, was using a combination of 12,960 Cell processors and 6,912 Opteron processors.
The trio of Sony, Toshiba, and IBM co-designed the Cell broadband engine architecture. Toshiba has taken the liberty of modifying the Cell processor into something a little more appropriate for multimedia processing by retaining half of the Cell's eight synergistic processor elements (SPEs) and adding video encoding and decoding hardware, it created the SpursEngine processor:
Consuming a mere 10-20W, the SpursEngine is intended to fill the role of a co-processor dedicated to 3D and video processing. With four SPEs running at 1.5 GHz, the SpursEngine is good for about 50 GFLOPS, and capable of 8/16/32-bit integer and single/double precision floating-point calculations. The processor has one megabyte of local memory, 256KB of which are dedicated to each of the four SPEs.
I know what you're thinking: it sounds great, but what can it do for me? Well, Leadtek asked the same question and responded by placing the SpursEngine processor on a video transcoding board called its WinFast PxVC1100.
We look at this SpursEngine-equipped card to show you just what it can do. However, more importantly, we're going to compare its performance to a number of CPUs across the price spectrum to see if your hard-earned dollars are best spent on the WinFast PxVC1100 or if they are better served upgrading your host processor instead.