“Cell” processor introduced for next generation digital TV products

The supercomputer on a chip offers a tenfold performance boost over today’s fastest CPUs
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IBM, Sony, and Toshiba have announced a new chip designed to work with a variety of computer operating systems that greatly improves processing performance.

IBM, Sony, and Toshiba last week unveiled the multicore “Cell” processor, a new 4GHz chip designed to be the digital backbone of a new generation of consumer electronics ranging from HDTV sets to advanced video game consoles.

A prototype chip — designed to work with a variety of computer operating systems — is 221sq mm; integrates 234 million transistors; and is fabricated with 90 nanometer SOI technology at IBM’s fabrication plant in East Fishkill, N.Y. Sony will begin fabricating the chip at its Nagasaki facility later this year.

Sony plans to use the new Cell chip in its PlayStation 3, likely to be introduced in 2006, and Toshiba plans to use the chip in advanced high-definition televisions, also to be introduced next year.

However, the New York Times reported, that many industry executives and analysts said that the chip’s impact may ultimately be much broader, staving off the PC industry’s efforts to dominate the digital living room and at the same time creating a new digital computing ecosystem that includes Hollywood, the living room and high-performance scientific and engineering markets.

The chip has a modular design based on a slightly less powerful IBM processor that is currently in G5 64-bit desktop computers from Apple Computer. Additionally, the architecture is distinguished by the fact that it controls an array of eight additional processors that the design team refers to as synergistic processing elements, or S.P.E.’s. Each of the S.P.E.’s is a 128-bit processor in its own right.

The Cell has some components that in the lab switch at 5.6GHz, and several people familiar with the design told the Times that it was both more flexible than is generally understood and that it has been designed with high bandwidth communications, such as high-speed data links to homes, in mind.

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