Three very interesting things happened over the past couple of weeks here at AnandTech:
  1. Intel’s Spring IDF 2005 turned out to be a multi-core CPU festival, with Intel being even more open than ever before about future plans for their multi-core microprocessor architectures.   Intel has over 10 multi-core CPU designs in the works, and they made that very clear at IDF.
  2. At GDC 2005, AGEIA announced that they had developed a Physics Processing Unit (PPU) that could be used to enable extremely realistic physics and artificial intelligence models.
  3. Johan De Gelas went one step further in his quest for more processing power earlier this week to find that there’s quite a lot of potential for multi-core CPUs in the gaming market, at the expense of increasing development times.
So, what do these three things have in common?   The aggregate of the three basically summarize what we’ve come to know as the Cell microprocessor - a multi-core CPU, part of which is designed for parallel physics/AI processing for which it will be quite difficult to program.

Cell, at a high level, isn’t too difficult to understand; it’s how the designers got there that is most intriguing.   It’s the design decisions and building blocks of Cell that we’ll focus on here in this article, with an end goal of understanding why Cell was designed the way it was.

A joint venture between IBM, Sony and Toshiba, the Cell microprocessor is the heart and soul of Sony’s upcoming Playstation 3.   However, this time around, Sony and Toshiba are planning to use Cell (or parts of it) in everything from consumer electronics to servers and workstations.   If you don’t already have the impression, publicly, Cell has been given some very high aspirations as a microprocessor, especially a non-x86 microprocessor.

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  • MDme - Thursday, March 17, 2005 - link

    #39, 40, 41

    http://www.pcworld.com/news/article/0,aid,112749,p...

    remember that the athlon 64 chips scale better at higher clock speeds due to the mem controller scaling as well.

    Reply
  • Eug - Thursday, March 17, 2005 - link

    Well, one example is Cinebench 2003:

    The dual G5 2.0 GHz is about the same speed as a dual 0pteron 246 2.0 GHz, with a score at around 500ish.

    http://www.aceshardware.com/read.jsp?id=60000284

    BTW, a dual G5 2.5 GHz scores 633.
    Reply
  • suryad - Thursday, March 17, 2005 - link

    Hmm that is interesting what you say Eug. I see your point do you have any links on straight comparos between an FX and a top of the line Mac? Or from personal experience folding and such... Reply
  • Eug - Thursday, March 17, 2005 - link

    #38. It's a mistake to say an AMD FX 55 smokes a dual G5 2.5. For instance, if you like scientific dual-threaded stuff, the G5 does very well. However, the AMD FX 55 IS faster than a single G5 2.5. It's got a slight edge clock-for-clock, and it's clocked slightly higher too.

    The real problem is when you have stuff built for x86 ported over to PPC. It just isn't great on the Mac side performance-wise in that situation. And Macs aren't tweaked for gaming either. The AMD is going to smoke the Mac in Doom 3 of course.

    I think with the performance advantage of the Opteron, I'd put a single G5 2.5 in the range of performance of a single Opteron 2.2-2.4 GHz, depending on the app. The real interesting part though will be the coming quarter, when the new G5s are released. They should get a significant clock speed bump (20%?) and information on dual-core G5s are already out there (like with AMD and their dual-core Athlons). They also get a cache boost. Right now they only have 512 KB, but are expected to get 1 MB L2.
    Reply
  • suryad - Thursday, March 17, 2005 - link

    Well scrotemaninov I am not disputing that the POWER architecture by IBM is brilliantly done. IBM is definitely one of those companies churning out brilliant and elegant technology always in the background.

    But my problem with the POWER technology is from what I understand very limitedly, is that the POWER processors in the Mac machines are a derivative of that architecture right? Why the heck are they so damn slow then?

    I mean you can buy an AMD FX 55 based on the crappy legacy x86 arch and it smokes the dual 2.5 GHz Macs easily!! Is it cause of the OS? Because so far from what I have seen, if the Macs are any indication of the performance capabilities of the POWER architecture, the Cell will not be a big hit.

    I did read though at www.aceshardware.com benchmark reviews of the POWER5 architecture with some insane number of cores if I recall correctly and the benchmarks were of the charts. They are definitely not what the Macs have installed in them...
    Reply
  • scrotemaninov - Thursday, March 17, 2005 - link

    #35: different approaches to solving the same problem.

    Intel came up with x86 a long time ago and it's complete rubbish but they maintain it for backwards compatibility (here's an argument for Open Source Software if ever there was one...). They have huge amounts of logic to effectively translate x86 into RISC instructions - look at the L1I Trace Cache in the P4 for example.

    IBM aren't bound by the same constraints - their PowerPC ISA is really quite nice and so there's no where near the same amount of pain suffered trying to deal with the same problem. It does seem however, that IBM are almost at the point that Intel want to be in 10 years time...
    Reply
  • Verdant - Thursday, March 17, 2005 - link

    here is a question...

    it mentions (or alludes) in the article that having no cache means that knowing exactly when an instruction would be executed is possible, is the memory interface therefore a strict "real time system" ?
    Reply
  • WishIKnewComputers - Thursday, March 17, 2005 - link

    Well, I dont really see the Cell 'breaking' in any way. Between being in the PS3, IBM servers/supercomputers, and Sony and Toshiba electronics, the chip will be all over the place.

    As for it showing up in PCs... no it wont happen anytime soon, but I really dont think it's intended to at this point. Workstation and playstations are its main concern, and smartly so. The Cell in its first generation isnt cut out for superior general tasking, obviously, but when those things start pumping out (and they will... the PS2 has sold what, 80 million units?), there will likely be different and more advanced versions. And if some of those are changed for enhanced general purposing somehow or another, then they could have shot at entering the PC world. As for taking on Intel, though... I dont think IBM is even considering that. If I had to guess, if they wanted to be in a PC, they would have OS X adapted to Cell and IBM would have these things in Apples.

    But no matter which way they go, is it me or does IBM seem light-years ahead of Intel? After looking at Intel's future plans, it seems that they are trying to move towards what IBM is doing now. So is the Cell a processor just ahead of its time, or has Intel just gotten behind?
    Reply
  • AnnihilatorX - Thursday, March 17, 2005 - link

    This article is seriously a kill for a child like me. I appreciate it though. Well done Anandtech Reply
  • ravedave - Thursday, March 17, 2005 - link

    I can't wait to see what devlopers thing of the cell & the SDK's for it. I have a feeling thats what will kill the cell or make it successfull.
    Reply

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