Products With Cells
When a project comes out of a joint effort between IBM, Toshiba, and Sony, you know it must be something pretty cool. And the Cell processor doesn't disappoint. Only a prototype has been shown off, but the companies claim processor speeds of greater than 4ghz, and a chip architecture which lends itself to low power requirements.
The real magic of the Cell isn't in its processor speed, or the amount of memory it has onboard, like it would be with a traditional CPU; This chip is made completely differently than most. The processors used today in everything from cellphones to computers to onboard GPS in cars use processors with one "core". The core is the main group of transistors which carry out calculations and solve equations for the programs you are running. It's the guy who decides how many pieces you blow into when your ship is blasted on an X-box, and it deciphers your html web pages into graphical prettyness when you're on the web.
The Cell plays differently. It has one main core, and eight "co-cores". Think of them like a professor and eight grad students; They may not be as smart as the main guy, but there are eight of them. They get things done, fast. While the main core handles small calculations and upkeep of the data, it dishes out little jobs to each of its helpers. For a task like talking on a phone, or checking e-mail, only one of the helper cores might be used, while a task like using SETI@home, or Doom 3 might use all eight. And this is where the really interesting, and potentially incredible for designers part comes in.
Since the processors are breaking up the work already, they can just as easily send the packet of work over a LAN or other network to another cell-enabled device! Previously, packing tons of processing power into phones or laptops, or wherever was limited by the power requirements of the system, and the cost. But now, if you are in a bus terminal with 15 people talking on phones, and none of them are playing games or taxing their processors, there could be over 100 cores available to your phone to do some crazy calculation unheard of on cellphone. Or, your entire house of appliances has the potential to use the computing power of the rest of your house. Do you want a toaster with the capability to perform 5th order differential equations of heat flux, but want to keep the price reasonable? Just allow it to tap a little of your PC's idle power. Or, how about a car that can calculate the best route from Chicago to New York taking into account a predictive model for traffic patterns over the next 12 hours based on current weather, traffic, and road condition reports? No sweat: You're on a road full of cell-enabled cars just waiting to loan you some P-time.
Right now, this is all just smoke and mirrors; The chip doesn't even debut until the Playstation 3 next Christmas, and even then, it probably won't take full advantage of its own power. But just like the Pentium architecture changed computers from basically large color calculators to machines which could play video and audio, and now do everything and then some, this new architecture and capability will send the industry for a loop.
The cell idea isn't going away, and it's going to cause a ruckus when it starts to pick up. Keep an eye on this baby.
Copyright 2004-2006 Dominic Muren and IDFuel Team