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IBM's Cell Processor — Not Just for PS3 Anymore 184

TechFreep writes to tell us that IBM has released a new line of QS20 Blade Servers based on the processor they developed for the Playstation 3. From the article: "Today IBM announced a new line of high-powered QS20 Blade Servers intended for use in seismic research, encryption, digital image rendering and military surveillance applications. Each QS20 will include two nine-cored Cell Processors clocked at 3.2Ghz apiece, which were developed along with Sony and Toshiba for Sony's upcoming Playstation 3 console. As Playstation 3 isn't scheduled for release until November, the QS20 will mark the first application in which the highly-touted Cell will be available to consumers."
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IBM's Cell Processor — Not Just for PS3 Anymore

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  • Aint that the truth. The damn things aren't even being built yet.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 13, 2006 @06:25PM (#16099904)
      Lost in the noise is the fact that the multi-core Cells are IBM's answer to Sun's chip multiprocessor (CMP) -- i.e., Niagara and Rock. Nothing about the CMP is new or unique. Academia has already done 10+ years of research on these beasts, and industry has ready access to the academic results.

      IBM already has a CMP. Both AMD and Intel will soon have CMPs. Here, CMP does not mean duo-core; CMP means at least 4 cores.

      The window of opportunity for Sun has now closed.

      What is ingenious about IBM is the fact that IBM is essentially using the R&D in its consumer-electronics division (that builds processors for game consoles and other toys) to advance R&D in the business-oriented high-performance-processor/high-end-server division. Building electronics for toys has actually strengthened non-toy products.

      When will Mattel and Hasbro start selling their own supercomputers?

      • When will Mattel and Hasbro start selling their own supercomputers?

        Mattel has already tested the computer waters [intellivisionlives.com]

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Mateito ( 746185 )
        When will Mattel and Hasbro start selling their own supercomputers?

        Cool. A supercomputer that turns into a robot OR a jet-fighter!

      • by jonatha ( 204526 )
        What is ingenious about IBM is the fact that IBM is essentially using the R&D in its consumer-electronics division (that builds processors for game consoles and other toys) to advance R&D in the business-oriented high-performance-processor/high-end-server division. Building electronics for toys has actually strengthened non-toy products.

        It may be ingenious, but there's only one division (STD, I kid you not, unless they've renamed it again...)

      • Lost in the noise is the fact that the multi-core Cells are IBM's answer to Sun's chip multiprocessor (CMP) -- i.e., Niagara and Rock.

        Nope; Cell and Niagara are optimized for totally different uses.
      • What is ingenious about IBM is the fact that IBM is essentially using the R&D in its consumer-electronics division (that builds processors for game consoles and other toys) to advance R&D in the business-oriented high-performance-processor/high-end-server division.

        This is nothing new. It has been part of IBM's business model for years to take orders for projects, complete the projects, and then turn around and use the resultant products in their own hardware. Take the powerpc 970 for example; made f

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Hal_Porter ( 817932 )
        But Niagara has 8 cores, each capable of runnning 4 threads. Importantly, they all use the same instruction set and have access to external memory. They all have MMUs too.

        http://www.theinquirer.net/default.aspx?article=19 423 [theinquirer.net]

        It's an SMP beast.

        So you could run a traditional OS on it, and all the cores would be used if needed. On a Cell, there is a single PowerPC core, which is a bit underpowered with no out of order execution for example. The bulk of the processing power is in the SPEs. But these have a diff
  • by Kesch ( 943326 ) on Wednesday September 13, 2006 @05:51PM (#16099678)
    Beowulf cluster of these.

    Oh, wait. I suppose this [slashdot.org] will be close enough.
  • Do you want your nuclear test performed with the same chip that's used to play Spiderman X? There are a lot of decisions with regards to redundancies, ECC, and so on that go into a design. If it was concieved as a chip for the playstation, you could end up with problems later.

    But I do hope it works. This kind of thing would be great for neural implants on the way to the singularity.
    • by Anne Thwacks ( 531696 ) on Wednesday September 13, 2006 @06:07PM (#16099795)
      Nope. It was concieved as a component for massively parallel processing, but using it in the playstation was the only way to get the volume production that I need to get the kind of reliability I want for my nuclear simulations.

      This chip will be to the Pentium what the Pentium is to the 6502 - once the tool chain is understood by software designers. Actually, better, because Cell architecture uses way less gates than pipelining for way more throughput at the same clock speed and feature size. Hell, I might even retire my Sun Niagras.

      Sure it won't run Windows very well, but hell, Windows doesn't run very well anyway, and I Don't Care (TM).

      Yes, it does run Linux. What about NetBSD?
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by jamstar7 ( 694492 )
        Nope. It was concieved as a component for massively parallel processing, but using it in the playstation was the only way to get the volume production that I need to get the kind of reliability I want for my nuclear simulations.

        OK, lemme see if I get this right...

        I buy a PS3. Hook it to the net. Leave it on 24/7. Your nuke simulating supercomputer comes over the net & scams spare cycles off of me a la SETI@Home.

        Did I miss anything?

        • by be-fan ( 61476 )
          I'm not sure if this is a joke or what.

          He was implying that spending $1bn+ designing and fabbing an agressive design like Cell is only possible if you have some high-volume consumer product to put it in. Otherwise, it'd just be too expensive.
          • by dfghjk ( 711126 )
            Hmmm, didn't stop IBM from doing the 970/G5.
            • by be-fan ( 61476 )
              IBM didn't spend a lot of money designing the G5. They just took Power4, which already had a self-sufficient market in high-end servers, and replaced the SMP fabric with an elastic-IO bus. Then they almost completely neglected to maintain/update it for three years.
      • Does it run an entirely open source Linux? I don't exactly trust Sony after how they bastardized Linux for the PS2.
        • by be-fan ( 61476 )
          Sony is the primary customer of Cell, but IBM's doing the development. They're doing the Linux port, compiler port, etc.
        • On the processor? AFAIK yes, the few existing Cell Workstations run Linux. And there are no reports of that linux version being bastardized.

          On the PS3? I believe that when it is reported by independent reviewers. Because it would be a radical break from the current business model for console:
          1) The console is sold at a loss
          2) The console maker recoups the losses from licens fees the game makers have to pay
          3) The console is heavily protected against the starting of unlicensed software.

          Having an unrestricted
    • by Ilgaz ( 86384 )
      When IBM says "Power" or "Cell" processor, they speak about an architecture standard which is relatively open, check info about it on their new http://www.power.org/ [power.org]

      For example while not planning a game console, NEC is also in Power board as well as Toshiba. I can think NEC cares about their supercomputing division and Toshiba cares about their future media plans.

      Those Cell processors they use will not be the same thing Ps3 runs. For example while my Quad G5 (PPC970) 2500 Mhz is fine for pro HD work if nece
      • by be-fan ( 61476 )
        The Cell processors are the same. Cell already supports ECC in the caches and in the XDR memory.
      • by dfghjk ( 711126 )
        "For example while my Quad G5 (PPC970) 2500 Mhz is fine for pro HD work if necessary upgrades (SCSI,HDI etc) done, a "real" Power5 AIX workstation used in petrol industry, military etc. would show it as a toy. It has near mainframe features packed to a workstation."

        What features are those? Name some that make it not "a toy" compared to your PowerMac.

        The 970 is a Power4 derivative. Power5 is newer.
  • by HatchedEggs ( 1002127 ) on Wednesday September 13, 2006 @05:55PM (#16099705) Homepage Journal
    Not necessarily about this announcement of course as most of us have seen it coming for some time. However, the concept of the core processor is quite strong and I think that it will play an important role in computing in the future.

    A little tid bit about all that: http://www.blachford.info/computer/Cell/Cell0_v2.h tml [blachford.info]
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by joe_bruin ( 266648 )
      Don't get too excited. The Register [theregister.co.uk] reports that just one of these blades will cost you $18,995.
      • by donaldm ( 919619 )
        Well back in the mid 1980's some PC's would set you back almost $10k and they only ran DOS while a workstation (full colour graphics) could cost anything from $7k (we got a very good deal from SUN and SGI) to $100k+.

        The dual cell machine costing $18k may be quite cheap for what it can do. Not everything revolves around PC's.

        If companies want serious number crunching power it is not unusual to see purchases in the millions.
    • by fm6 ( 162816 )
      Attention, would be science and technology writers: don't babble for 3 or 4 pages before you get around to explaining what you're talking about and why it's so kewl. In this case, the Cell is a ordinary Power processor core supplemented by a bunch of on-chip vector processors. Which actually is pretty damned cool, but not as mysterious as Blachford makes it sounds.
    • Let's not forget the Transputer! it was there 20 years before the Cell CPU, and there was parallel programming languages like Occam or Concurrent C.

      More info here:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transputer [wikipedia.org]
  • "Consumers" (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TCM ( 130219 ) on Wednesday September 13, 2006 @05:56PM (#16099713)
    It's not just that I hate this word, but what has it got to do with these blade servers? Are they edible?
    • by Mr2001 ( 90979 )
      This is a pretty standard use of the word. "Consumers" are the complement of "producers", in economics as well as computer science (e.g. a lexer produces tokens which are consumed by a parser).

      Producers make a product; distributors and retailers buy it in order to pass it on to someone else; consumers buy it for their own use. The article is saying the QS20 is the first thing people will be able to buy and use that contains a Cell processor.
  • by Doctor Memory ( 6336 ) on Wednesday September 13, 2006 @05:56PM (#16099715)
    the highly-touted Cell will be available to consumers.
    Sure, as long as you're spying on someone else's armed forces, analyzing their armaments via seismograph and taking pictures that you then encrypt to send to your superiors. Bet they'll be backordered for the holidays!
  • What exactly is a blade server? Is that what they were talking about on that dumbed-down uncreative commercial where the two guys are like "What's a blade server?" "This is." "This is a blade?" "Uh, yeah."
    • by kv9 ( 697238 )

      What exactly is a blade server?

      it is a server with blades [ibm.com].

      and here's a link to the IBM press release [ibm.com] because it looks like linking to the source has gone out of style.

      • Re:Wait... (Score:4, Informative)

        by whitehatlurker ( 867714 ) on Wednesday September 13, 2006 @06:40PM (#16100011) Journal
        What exactly is a blade server?

        it is a server with blades.

        That's begging the question. A blade is a modular computer on a board. You team these up into a chassis and have them communicate together and you've got a blade server.

        • by mnmn ( 145599 )
          My friend had a blade server eons ago.

          He had a Tyan motherboard with CPU daughterboards. He could add upto 4 CPUs but he only had 2.

          I wonder if Dell Poweredges lined up and interconnected with Ethernet (tm) will qualify as a blade server.

        • Again, bad explanation.

          A blade is a server. Instead of having plugs and wires to connect it to everything else, it has one nice big interface. It slides into an enclosure that provides the interface with everything it needs.

          The enclosure will do handy things like handle all that power stuff, provide some integrated administration, hardware management and such, provide cooling and airflow.
  • Better info (Score:5, Informative)

    by marleyboy ( 174610 ) on Wednesday September 13, 2006 @05:57PM (#16099722) Homepage
    Maybe take a peek at the Wiki entry [wikipedia.org] about the cell processor for a good background of what it is capable of.
    • by suv4x4 ( 956391 )
      Maybe take a peek at the Wiki entry [wikipedia.org] about the cell processor for a good background of what it is capable of.

      Wow... wow... We screwed up. Boy, are our faced red! Hehehe.
      We're switching back to PowerPC in 2007 then.. Yea..

      -- Steve Jobs
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 13, 2006 @06:00PM (#16099744)
    I think that stating that the Cell was "developed for PS3" is misleading. The processor, while certainly earmarked for the PS3, was designed all along to go into a full range of computing devices, PS3 was just the most visible (and likely to ship the most units initially). Saying it the other way makes it sound like the chip was developed exclusively for the PS3 and IBM is "just finding uses for it", which is not the case.
  • I see (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Clearly this is bad news for Sony.

    For some reason I haven't figured out yet.
  • by Invisible Now ( 525401 ) on Wednesday September 13, 2006 @06:32PM (#16099955)
    This has always been the plan and was a guiding principal in the Cell's design. Amortize the cost of a very usefull (To federal customers) chip over the estimated 40-60M playstations that will use a very similar (But not identical) design. From the beginning the chip was dual-purpose designed with very high speed interconnects and protocols for massive parallel-ism.

    $29/chip x 64k chips = more ops per buck than ever - thanks to the world's gamers...

    The problem for both PS3 and the NSA, etc is IBM's 10-20% yields. PS3 for Christmas? They better get up the curve fast...

    BTW - Anyone remember back to when the Soviets used to buy up Ataris and canabilize their chips for sonobouys?
    • by uarch ( 637449 )
      The problem for both PS3 and the NSA, etc is IBM's 10-20% yields. PS3 for Christmas? They better get up the curve fast...
      Yeah. That would be a huge problem! Good thing yeilds aren't that low.

      (You're probably referencing the interview that was on tech sites a few months ago. The write-ups completely misunderstood what was being said.)
    • by donaldm ( 919619 ) on Thursday September 14, 2006 @05:21AM (#16102574)
      Even with a 20% yield the cell is going to cost between US$15 to US30. The cell will be made on a Silicon on Insulator (SOI) wafer (300mm diameter) costing approx US1200. In huge quantities (and the for PS3, Wii and Xbox 360 there will be huge quantities) this will bring down the cost of the wafer and thus the overall cost of the chips on SOI will be cheaper.

      On an interesting note the Cell chip is approx 250 square mm so taking the 20% option on a 300mm diameter SOI wafer (assume US$1300 for wafer and assembly) the overall cost of the chip is US$23. The fab machines are about $11M each and are capable of producing completed wafers between 25,000 to 35,000 per year. Great if you control the process and IBM, Toshiba and Sony (to a lesser degree) do.

      Do a Google search on "Silicon On Insulator" as a starting point.
      • by antime ( 739998 )
        When you say "Cell chip" I assume you mean an implementation with one PPE and eight SPEs? I would be interested if you have figures for smaller versions, designed for use in less processing-intensive applications (digital TV, DVD players etc).
        • by donaldm ( 919619 )
          I don't have the figures for a cut-down cell (if such a thing exists), although I would assume that if you only want a PPE (not negotiable) and say 4 SPE's then standard cell chip yields would increase to say 50~70%. Of course if the clock frequency is lower then I would also assume that yields would go up as well. The overall size of the standard cell chip is huge and since you are going to put rectangular chips on a circular wafer then you are never going to get much more than 80~90% yields (reasonable gu
    • BTW - Anyone remember back to when the Soviets used to buy up Ataris and canabilize their chips for sonobouys?

      Link?

  • Now we know why the PS3 Europe release is pushed out into next Spring. With reported 10% - 20% yields for the Cell, there just aren't that many of the buggers around yet.
  • Each QS20 will include two nine-cored Cell Processors clocked at 3.2Ghz apiece

    I'm confused. Does that make the damn thing 6.4GHz, 28.8GHz, or 57.6GHz?

    • by miro f ( 944325 )
      I'm confused. Does that make the damn thing 6.4GHz, 28.8GHz, or 57.6GHz?


      no. It's 3.2 GHZ

      you don't add clock speeds
  • by rlh100 ( 695725 ) on Wednesday September 13, 2006 @09:25PM (#16100819) Homepage
    I am surprised that no one has mentioned the Slashdot article on the study at LBL on use of cell processors in High Performance Computing:
    The Potential of Science With the Cell Processor
    http://science.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=06/05/2 8/047223/ [slashdot.org]

    It reference a second article:
    Researchers Analyze HPC Potential of Cell Processor
    http://www.hpcwire.com/hpc/671376.html/ [hpcwire.com]

    This discusses research at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory on using the STI Cell processor for scientific computing. From the article quoting the LBL paper:
    "Overall results demonstrate the tremendous potential of the Cell architecture for scientific computations in terms of both raw performance and power efficiency,"
    and
    "We also conclude that Cell's heterogeneous multi-core implementation is inherently better suited to the HPC environment than homogeneous commodity multi-core processors."

    The paper went on to say that while the Cell processor was designed for single-precision 32-bit floating performance but with some simple changes to the design it could be optimized for double precision 64-bit floating performance.

    This makes a lot of sense if this is the same Cell processor that IBM is using in their blade servers.
    Really cheap, really fast 9 core processors!

    An interesting read.

    RLH

  • by crossmr ( 957846 ) on Thursday September 14, 2006 @02:04AM (#16101911) Journal
    Chris Hecker for example pretty much says they're crap for game consoles. http://crystaltips.typepad.com/wonderland/2005/03/ burn_the_house_.html [typepad.com]

    So, as you know, graphics and physics grind on large homogenous floating point data structures in a very straight-line structured way. Then we have AI and gameplay code. Lots of exceptions, tunable parameters, indirections and often messy. We hate this code, it's a mess, but this is the code that makes the game DIFFERENT. Here is the terrifying realization about the next generation consoles: I'm about to break a ton of NDAs here, oh well, haha, I never signed them anyway.

    Gameplay code will get slower and harder to write on the next generation of consoles. Modern CPUs use out-of-order execution, which is there to make crappy code run fast. This was really good for the industry when it happened, although it annoyed many assembly language wizards in Sweden. Xenon and Cell are both in-order chips. What does this mean? It's cheaper for them to do this. They can drop a lot of cores. One out-of-order core is about four times [did I catch that right? Alice] the size of an in-order core. What does this do to our code? It's great for grinding on floating point, but for anything else it totally sucks. Rumours from people actually working on these chips - straight-line runs 1/3 to 1/10th the performance at the same clock speed. This sucks.
  • The IBM didn't have a Defender flashback and put in a smart-bomb button on these puppies.
  • QS20 will mark the first application in which the highly-touted Cell will be available to consumers
    Consumers?! Do you know how much a QS20 will cost you? These are business systems. You'd have to buy both a blade center and a blade.

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