Nikkie Electronics Asia: hints at twin-Cell chip configuration for PlayStation3

  • Thread starter a link to the past
  • Start date

a link to the past

here is that exact quote so you don't have to look for it below

" In these secret labs there are development boards the size of pillows,
mounting twin Cell chips with little air-cooled heat sinks small enough to
sit in the palm of your hand. Development is under way on 3D graphic draw
libraries for gaming, HDTV demodulation software, and more"

could this be a hint that PS3 will have twin-Cell CPUs ? that would be a
total of 18 cores, 9 per chip

-1 PPE (PowerPC) and 8 SPEs (workhorse processors) per Cell chip-

here's the whole article

Can Sony Dominate with Cell?

SCE has begun pushing the Cell microprocessor as its next strategy. If the
firm's aim can be realized, the Sony Group could become a semiconductor

Can Sony Computer Entertainment Inc (SCE) of Japan pull off its third major
success? The first was in 1994, when the company utilized new compact disk
read-only memory (CD-ROM) media to shoe-horn itself into a leading position
in the home game system market, succeeding in spite of the fact that the
market was almost entirely locked up by leaders Nintendo Co, Ltd of Japan
and Sega Enterprises Ltd of Japan. The second success was in 2000, when the
home game system market was in the doldrums with old technology, and SCE
introduced the latest semiconductor technology to attain an unmovable
position in the game industry even while being condemned for its "epic game"

But will there be a third success? In 2005, SCE has begun pushing the Cell
next-generation microprocessor as its next strategy. The Cell IC is not
designed only for use in game systems, but is intended for application in
everything from home servers to TVs, mobile phones and workstations. The
firm also plans to aggressively push Cell on the merchant market, nurturing
technology born from game systems into a platform for diverse networked
equipment. If the firm's dream can be realized it will mean that the Sony
Group holds a core part of the network era, which could make it into a
semiconductor major. This is part of the reason that Ken Kutaragi, executive
deputy president and chief operating officer (COO) of Sony Corp of Japan,
always seems to mention Intel Corp of the US as a potential competitor in
various developments.

Long-Term Strategy

The presentation at the International Solid-State Circuits Conference
(ISSCC) 2005, where the Cell was revealed, was standing-room-only as people
packed the several hundred seats for a glimpse.

Is Cell really that great? Of the chip outline presented at the conference,
the audience was especially intrigued by the very high floating-point
operation speed, hitting 256 GFLOPS at 4GHz. (256 GFLOPS is over 40 times
higher than the Emotion Engine mounted in SCE's PlayStation 2, and over 15
times higher than Intel's Pentium 4.)

The real quality of Cell is not in the operating frequency or
number-crunching prowess of the prototype chip, however, but in the internal
architecture. Advances in semiconductor manufacturing technology and the
sharp rise in the number of internal operators have made this structure
essential to continue to meet diversifying applications from digital
appliances to computers. In addition, engineers are also working on an
environment that will make it possible to network multiple Cells together to
act like a single computer. The goal is to leverage the chip's flexibility
and expansibility to make it a core component for the electronics industry,
and keep it that way over the long term. "We wanted to make an architecture
that would be valid for at least a decade," said James Kahle, IBM fellow,
Broadband Processor Technology, Microelectronics Div, IBM Corp of the US,
emphasizing the future-oriented design of the chip. The prototype chip is
merely the first step in realizing this goal, merely a starting point.

The basic concept of Cell was firmed up in the spring of 2001, when the
joint development lab was established by SCE, IBM and Toshiba Corp of Japan
in Austin, Texas. SCE and Toshiba engineers flew to the US for the initial
meeting with IBM on the Cell concept, meeting a host of top IBM engineers,
such as people in charge of developing the POWER4 server microprocessor. The
scale of the development team was gradually boosted to several hundred
people, mostly engineers from IBM. The fact that IBM, the former leader in
the mainframe world, contributed so heavily to the development of an IC for
home game systems clearly demonstrates how the key driver in electronics
technology has shifted from computers to home electronics (Figs 1 and 2).

Product Development

The disclosed specs for the prototype chip were not maxed-out data created
for the conference. The development team has confirmed operation at up to
5.2GHz on the first prototype chip obtained in April 2004, but the ISSCC
presentations on Cell merely stated "4GHz or higher". More than likely, the
companies are expecting to use about 4GHz in actual equipment for reasons of
higher IC yield, lower dissipation and simplified board design. The initial
chip exhibited no problems with logical operations, and was able to boot the
operating system (OS). Dissipation, however, was a major issue. Masakazu
Suzuoki, VP, Microprocessor Development Dept, Semiconductor Business Div at
SCE, feels that this has been resolved: "We had a difficult time reducing
dissipation at the start, but finally found the solution in the second half
of 2004."

Cell chips will be used in home game systems by SCE, high-definition TV
(HDTV)-capable digital TVs and home servers by Sony, and HDTV-capable
digital TVs by Toshiba by 2006. Hardware and software for these products is
now being developed simultaneously at multiple sites in the US and Japan.
Entry into the development areas is strictly controlled, so very few
engineers have actually seen Cell chips in operation. In these secret labs
there are development boards the size of pillows, mounting twin Cell chips
with little air-cooled heat sinks small enough to sit in the palm of your
hand. Development is under way on 3D graphic draw libraries for gaming, HDTV
demodulation software, and more.

Leading the Era

The Cell chip is a multicore design, single-chipping the general-purpose
central processing unit (CPU) core to run the OS and handle other tasks, and
multiple signal processors called synergistic processing elements (SPE). The
prototype chip has the IBM Power-architecture general-purpose CPU core and
eight SPEs.

The circuit configuration has been simplified as much as possible so that
the CPU core and the SPEs can operate together at 4GHz or higher. This is
because the complex instruction scheduling that has become so common in
high-performance microprocessors lately tends to boost core footprints and
dissipation both.

The quantity of SPEs per Cell will vary with the performance the equipment
requires and the scale of the circuits to be integrated into the chip, but
will always be an even number. The CPU core is not dependent on any specific
architecture, and ignoring business-related factors could easily be designed
to use ARM for mobile phones and MIPS for desktop equipment, for example. In
fact, IBM appears to be developing a separate Cell chip using a totally
different CPU core.
The Cell design approach based on the simplified CPU core and signal
processors is leading the way for design trends in microprocessors as they
move towards multicore design. As Justin Rattner, senior fellow, Corporate
Technology Group and senior director, Microprocessor Technology Lab at Intel
explained, top people in the industry share the same opinion: "In the
future, it will be crucial to design microprocessors by single-chipping
multiple simple CPU cores."

Flexible Interfaces

The design approach aiming for application in diverse systems is evident in
the system interface linking Cell to peripheral ICs, too. The physical layer
is the FlexIO high-speed parallel transfer technology developed by Rambus
Inc of the US. The interface is 12 bytes wide, with seven bytes used for
output and five for input. Depending on the specific peripheral ICs used,
the widths can be freely adjusted in 1-byte units, supporting a maximum of
two peripheral ICs (Fig 3).

The per-pin peak data rate for FlexIO is a high 6.4 Gbits/s, which is higher
than the 2.5 Gbits/s delivered by existing PCI Express serial transfer, or
even 5 Gbits/s second-generation PCI Express technology. As a result, the
system interface offers a peak data rate of 76.8 Gbytes/s, roughly ten times
faster than the Pentium 4.

The adoption of FlexIO seems to have been due in part to the fact that it
can be used with inexpensive clock ICs. This is crucial in keeping costs
down in consumer electronics products costing hundreds of dollars. FlexIO
incorporates a circuit to dynamically ensure clock signal jitter due to
supply voltage fluctuation, making it possible to hit a per-pin rate of 6.4
Gbits/s even using clock ICs with relatively high jitter.

Swallowing ASICs

Behind this major shift in design policy are the facts that it is time for
another change in architecture, which generally occurs every five years as
semiconductor manufacturing technology advances, and that
application-specific ICs (ASIC) for individual products pose increased
development load.

In the five years since the development of the Emotion Engine semiconductor
geometry has shrunk considerably. It has been possible for microprocessors
on chips of given areas to boost processing performance by ten times over
this period through architecture revamps. This is sufficient to even make
the shift to a whole new platform worthwhile. The difference in performance
between the prototype Cell and the first-generation Emotion Engine is 40x,
but they are about the same size: 221mm2 for the former, and 226mm2 for the
latter. This is on a par with the Pentium 4, manufactured with 180nm
technology, at 217mm2.

With number-crunching performance of 256 GFLOPS, it becomes possible to
implement almost all of the signal processing demanded by digital consumer
electronics in software. Encoding demanded by Moving Picture Coding Experts
Group Phase 2 (MPEG-2) for standard-definition TV (SDTV), for example, can
be executed for several dozen streams in parallel. This means that all of
the various signal processing circuits currently implemented in individual
ASICs can be replaced by the Cell. For applications like mobile phones where
signal processing performance does not need to be very high, the quantity of
SPEs can be reduced in a special Cell, cutting chip footprint and

Full Use of Silicon

One advantage of the Cell, which can vary the quantity of SPEs to control
number-crunching capability, is that it will prove very handy in the future
by providing the increasing performance digital consumer electronics needs.

Take H.264 encoding, for example. The prototype chip can handle encoding of
multiple SDTV video streams in parallel, but only one HDTV stream. If HDTV
imagery is being recorded to Blu-ray Disc media with H.264, for example, the
system would require even higher performance in order to be able to
simultaneously play a game or execute other applications. Other demands are
also being raised calling for boosted performance in digital consumer
electronics, such as an image recognition function to make it possible to
search for a particular scene within massive imagery records.

With Cell it is possible to develop a microprocessor satisfying the
requirements much faster than an ASIC, just by increasing the quantity of
SPEs. A large number of signal processing operations in digital consumer
electronics are executed in pixel units, making it fairly easy to execute
them through parallel processing and gain maximum effect from an increase in
SPE quantity.

The fact that performance can be boosted without changing chip size, just by
increasing the number of SPEs, also contributes to maintaining a high
capacity usage ratio at the fab. If advances in semiconductor manufacturing
technology are only used to shrink chips it will be necessary to produce
cheap chips in volume, increasing the time needed to recover the capital
investment into the facility (Fig 4).

Hardware, Software

Cell is more than just the IC: it only achieves full performance when it is
used in conjunction with the software. It will not be a trivial task to
apply all the power offered by the nine processors in the Cell, including
the CPU core, to add value to the host equipment. Balancing the load
effectively between the cores will require writing code from a solid
understanding of Cell architecture, and that means sophisticated software
technology. As one engineer involved in Cell development commented,
"Engineers who have only been involved in developing software for
general-purpose microprocessors are going to have to relearn everything from
the ground up. People who have been involved in ASIC development might be
better suited to writing code for Cell."

Each company is involved in its own software development project, and it
appears, for example, that multiple varieties of Linux running on Cell
already exist. While the firms cooperated in the development of the
microprocessor, they remain rivals when it comes to Cell-driven products in
the marketplace.

While software development methodology will have to be revamped for Cell
chips, once the constituent technology required for digital consumer
electronics development (OS, libraries and such) is available, it should
become considerably simpler to actually develop the product. More and more
functions can be used in multiple pieces of equipment, including H.264 and
other Codec software and graphical user interfaces (GUI). Sony is already
applying this development method in TVs mounting the Emotion Engine. By
utilizing software libraries originally developed for the PlayStation 2, it
was able to quickly develop the GUI used in the PSX, called the cross-media
bar (XMB).

Outside Sales

In parallel with the adoption of Cell chips in their own products, it seems
likely that the manufacturers will begin to push sales to other firms
involved in consumer electronics and computers. The more products equipped
with Cell chips, the easier it will be to achieve a distributed environment
via networking, and that was one of the original concepts of the Cell
development plan.

The Sony Group plans to provide not only Cell, but also peripheral and
graphics ICs equipped with all the needed input/output (I/O) interfaces. The
strategy makes one think of an Intel for the digital consumer electronics
world. The firm will probably also provide homegrown OS and software. As
mentioned above, the development of Cell software will not be trivial, but
for the consumer electronics manufacturers, releasing product software to
the competition would be the kiss of death because, along with the software,
hard-won expertise would also be transferred.

In fact, Cell is provided with a framework to prevent such expertise from
escaping. A function is implemented in hardware that can make it impossible
for the dedicated SPE memory space to be addressed by the CPU core. This
function could be used to prevent third parties from analyzing software
libraries or other code in the SPEs.

In addition to sales to the merchant market, it is also possible that the
Cell system interface could be disclosed. If third-party developers provide
the peripheral ICs for use with Cell, it would rapidly increase the range of
possible Cell variations.

To convince as many IC manufacturers as possible to make peripheral ICs for
use with Cell, one possible strategy is to release the specs free of charge,
as Intel did with its peripheral component interconnect (PCI) bus and
accelerated graphics port (AGP) specs. It seems more likely that the
information will only be released under a license agreement, however, Sony's
Kutaragi suggested.

by Rocky Eda and Tomonori Shindo


<snip spam>

Geez! An 18KB post x-posted to how many NG's? You've been reported, you
POS AOLamer.
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for PlayStation3
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Doug Jacobs

In jack said:
Geez! An 18KB post x-posted to how many NG's? You've been reported, you
POS AOLamer.

At least he's x-posting, instead of reposting to each group individually.

Unfortunatly, unless he's making threats, MASSIVELY spamming, or spewing
racial epithets like a tourettes' sufferer on speed, most usenet admins
aren't going to do anything.

This isn't even considered spamming since it is x-posted, and to a
relatively small number of groups.

If you don't like the stuff, just killfile the original poster and like
magic, you won't see his posts anymore. Some programs even let you kill
any thread started by a killfiled poster, so you won't even have to see
the posts when people like you who didn't use their killfile, respond in
anger and outrage. ;)

More advanced programs let you even filter out messages that have been
x-posted to a certain number of groups, or specific groups (say, the
pro-wrestling group, which seems to be nothing but a hotbed of trolls.)

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