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PC performance to take 200X speed increase?

(Alt subject for the geeks... "Moore's Law No More." )

This is a most interesting story. IBM and Sony have apparently released details of their new "cell" processor. This technology has been in the works for about 4 years and 2 years ago it got some major hype... Now it looks like the possible dawning of a whole new era.

Details trickle out on Cell processor

SAN FRANCISCO The eagerly anticipated Cell processor from IBM, Toshiba and Sony leverages a multicore 64-bit Power architecture with an embedded streaming processor, high-speed I/O, SRAM and dynamic multiplier in an effort, the partners hope, to revolutionize distributed computing architectures.

Although the technical aspects of the design, which has been in the works for nearly four years, are tightly held, details are emerging in excerpts from papers to be released today for the 2005 International Solid-State Circuits Conference(see story, page 94), as well as in patent filings.

The highly integrated Cell device has been billed as a beefy engine for Sony's Playstation 3, due to be demonstrated in May. But the architecture also addresses many other applications, including set-top boxes and mobile communications. Workstations fitted with the Cell architecture a $2 billion endeavor are already in the hands of game developers.

This is the next generation of the POWER PC architecture that Apple uses in its Macintoshes. Apple's G5 was the first 64-bit processor available to the general public and changed the way the world looked at processors. This supposedly blows it out the water.

Performance estimates ...Giving scale to the performance targets for the project, one of the ISSCC papers puts the performance of the streaming-processor SRAM at 4.8 GHz. This suggests the data transfer rate for 128-bit words across the local bus within the processing element. When the Cell alliance was announced in 2001, Sony Computer Entertainment CEO Ken Kutagari estimated the performance of each Cell processor a collection of apparently four processing elements in the first implementation at 1 teraflops.

So what the heck is a teraflop? Here is some perspective... When the G5 shook up the supercomputing world, 2,200 G5 processors were needed to produce 10 teraflops. And THAT was the third largest supercomputer in the world at the time.

This is a multi-cored processor. That means it has 4 processors in one physical chip. (like a double barrel shot gun) If one of those produces a teraflop it is nothing short of amazing. 10 chips could replace 2,200 chips today.

One limitation to this technology would be the speed we can move data in and out of memory. Today memory speed would be the bottleneck... Although with a 64 bit processor you can have 4,000 Gigabytes of RAM. (Try putting 4TB of RAM in your Pentium box ;-)

While I'm obviously somewhat skeptical, when major companies throw 2 BILLION bucks at a project, I tend to believe they have a reason. Even if the first generation is "only" 1/10th of what they expect, that makes it about 20 TIMES faster than the fastest boxes today. If it meets expectations, that is roughly a 200 fold increase. Amazing. And prototypes are already shipping!

Sony mentioned in their press release using it for servers so clearly it will be coming soon to a desktop near you. (I'd guess on a Mac first as they use the PPC already but I have no clue.) And presumably if they are going to be in Play Stations they are going to be cheaper than what we have today.

Personally I'd buy Sony, IBM, Toshiba, and Apple and short Intel. But that's just me.

I'll be posting more when they release more details on Feb 6th. In the mean time, more and here.


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Comments (16)

Right then... I want one of... (Below threshold)
Darby:

Right then... I want one of those. Also I want one of these(If it's ever released!)

Introduced by Constellation 3D Inc. (C3D), Fluorescent Multi-Layer Disc holds up to 140 GB of data. This is currently (2001) 215 times greater than a CD-ROM (.65 GB) and 23 times greater than a DVD-ROM (6 GB).

Unfortunately, the company seem's to have disappeared.

1999 first published in september
2001 first license given to Sony
2002 august C3D disappeared

I've checked out several other websites, most are back from '99 or so. Some of there numbers seemed a little too unrealistic to me, but this site has a nice number.

Research has shown that media containing up to a hundred layers are currently feasible, thereby increasing the potential capacity of a single card or disk to hundreds of Gigabytes. Use of blue lasers would increase the capacities to over 1 Terabyte.

You can find it here.

"Precioussss... wants my pr... (Below threshold)
Jay Tea:

"Precioussss... wants my precioussss.... gives me my precioussss!"

J.

I've been following this fo... (Below threshold)

I've been following this for almost a year now, and I've basically come to the same conclusions. The Cell has 8 APU's each with its own DMA channels and IRQ's, and each with a 128-bit 6.4 GHz bus.

The Cell's first practical application in the PS3 will make the PS3 a miniture supercomputer, operating at some estimate nearly a Terraflop.

Actually, there's come good... (Below threshold)

Actually, there's come good articles on the issue over at http://www.ps3insider.com/

One more thing (should have... (Below threshold)

One more thing (should have organized my comments). The Cell was not derived fromt he Power PC archetechture I am fairly certain. In fact, that's one of the big problems for Microsoft with their XBox2 is that it archetechturally wont be able to compete.

Also, Sony has actually spent 4.2 billion on the cell... 2 billion of that has gone to updating fabrication plants and such, and 2.2 billion was spent developing the technology.

There's a new technology al... (Below threshold)

There's a new technology already able to put terabyte of data on a single cd sized disk. Apparently instead of binary holes / pits, the disk can relflect around 300 different frequencies per 'bit'.

Our databases at work are 100 Terabytes and take up half a floor. Can't imagine fitting it all on 100 discs. Gonna make those tape backup machines we use look ancient!

The Cell was not derived... (Below threshold)
Paul:

The Cell was not derived fromt he Power PC archetechture I am fairly certain.

Jordan, read the very first line of the story...

"SAN FRANCISCO The eagerly anticipated Cell processor from IBM, Toshiba and Sony leverages a multicore 64-bit Power architecture"

I had originally thought a ... (Below threshold)
andre3000:

I had originally thought a teraflop was what happened when a thong was put on the wrong ass on the wrong beach at the wrong time...

And backlit no less...

I thought it was when Micha... (Below threshold)

I thought it was when Michael Moore leaped naked off a diving board belly first into a pool of ramen noodles, but then I realized that was a TerrorFlop.

I am not absolutely sure on... (Below threshold)
chad:

I am not absolutely sure on this but I beleive the Power PC chip is a subset of a larger family of IBM RISC processors. If that is true the Cell Processor could have a Power core and still be distinct from the Power PC.

chad is correct.Most... (Below threshold)
PaulD:

chad is correct.
Most of my work is done on IBM RISC boxes, and the Power architecture is what they are built on. For more geek info, check out:

http://www-03.ibm.com/technology/power/

PaulD

Darby-I think I re... (Below threshold)

Darby-

I think I remember reading about the multilayer disc in SciAm and a few other places a couple years ago. IIRC I read Sony gave up on it because the write errors were too high, the read heads too expensive, and the market too small (In 2000 who really needed 140G on a CD?). Could make a comeback tho.

Mmmm … ramen noodles …... (Below threshold)

Mmmm … ramen noodles …

Actually, with a 64-bit add... (Below threshold)

Actually, with a 64-bit address you can have 16 billion gigabytes of RAM. Now that's a lot.

I'll be interested to if the Cell actually delivers a teraflop (even peak). The details that have been disclosed support it: a 4GHz clock speed, 4 cores, each with 8 math units, each capable of 4 32-bit multiply-add operations per cycle, so 4 billion x 4 x 8 x 4 x 2 (that last 2 is for the multiply and add, which counts as two operations) = 1.024 trillion. That assumes that the math units are all independent, which would require a huge number of transistors but isn't actually impossible.

Then they just need to bring out Dead or Alive 4 for it :)

What will be real interesti... (Below threshold)
chad:

What will be real interesting is how many of these PS3 stations will be bough in Iran. Teraflops = potential Nuclear explosion modeling. One of the reason the US maintains export controls on some computers.

- until we have fiber optic... (Below threshold)

- until we have fiber optic busses with 5Ghz optic xmtr/rcvr buffers the buss was, is, and will remain the bottleneck and if the architecture is RISC there better be a lots of hard wired high speed microcode in place of the larger part of the BIOS or the performance will come up far short of a delivered constant 1 terabyte....but its still possible depending on how the whole system is configured...Overhead and bus management always takes a byte out of raw delivered speed... anyway you look at it its going to scream.....




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