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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  • ceefka - Thursday, March 17, 2005 - link

    Rambus'Revenge Reply
  • Locut0s - Thursday, March 17, 2005 - link

    Great article Anand!! Yeah I actually get to bring my Comp150 knowledge to bear in reading this article! If this had come out 6 months ago I would have been totally lost. It will indeed be interesting to see what headway Cell can make, however unfortunately as Anand alludes to the x86 architecture is just too heavily entrenched for anything to budge it except the Big 2 (AMD and Intel). I can't wait to see what type of power the Playstation 3 will have though, and especially how that power will be utilized in games. I bet there will be some jaw dropping graphics awaiting us there. That is if Cells limitations don't hold back lazy game developers and lead to a string of mediocre games punctuated by a few amazing titles made by independent developers who really care to utilize the architecture. Didn't the Playstantion 1 suffer something similar? Reply
  • knitecrow - Thursday, March 17, 2005 - link

    The real world technology article on the cell, states that it gives up single thread performance in favour of runing many parallel threads. That sounds like a terrible difficult processor to development games for.

    I for one think it will be easier to put the burden on the hardware rather than on the software side.

    Can we see another repeat of PS2? Technically impressive, but hard to code for.
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, March 17, 2005 - link

    11 - I think the point is that games tend to use certain functions of a CPU much more frequently, while general business/office applications make use of a wider range of generic operations. I understand your complaint, as office applications generally don't need a lot more power than about 1.5 GHz at most. However, the key of the statement was the "general purpose microprocessor" and not the "very powerful" part. Reply
  • AnandThenMan - Thursday, March 17, 2005 - link

    WAIT. What the flock does this mean?

    "Performance in business/office applications requires a very powerful, very fast general purpose microprocessor, but performance in a game console, for example, does not."

    WHAT??????? Hello?? So an office app like Word needs a very powerful processor, but a game console does not? I beg to differ. I suppose it depends on how you define "business/office application" but I think that statement is WAY off. I know several current office applications that will limp along on a pentium 133, but no current game has any hope on the same CPU.
  • tipoo - Wednesday, July 30, 2014 - link

    It was clear to me that meant console CPUs didn't have to be as general purpose and brute force powerful in every regard - they can get away with being more specialized, and suck at general work, but still fast for game specific code. Reply
  • Googer - Thursday, March 17, 2005 - link

    When are they coming out? Anyone know of a release date? Reply
  • jeffbui - Thursday, March 17, 2005 - link

    #4, I do. Heh.

    I've been waiting for this article forever.. thanks!
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, March 17, 2005 - link

    Interesting stuff. The Playstation has always been something of a pain in the rear to program. PS1 went it's own way, and PS2 did the same. PS3 and Cell seem ready to pave new roads into the "OMG this is really complex" land of programming. I'm glad I've given up serious programming.... :) Reply
  • Googer - Thursday, March 17, 2005 - link

    In soviet russia cell processor controls your mind. Reply

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