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Cell breakout

Next-gen processor specs released

The four companies developing the powerful Cell processor that will sit at the heart of the PlayStation 3 released detailed specifications for the chip today as part of a drive to get it adopted in a wider range of consumer electronics and computer products.

IBM, Toshiba, Sony and SCEI (Sony Computer Entertainment Inc), which are developing the chip together, published details on the internet of the architecture of the "broadband engine" that sits at the heart of the processor. Details of the media and streaming acceleration processor and software programming language specifications were also made available.

"It's aimed to accelerate the creation of Cell-based applications," Nanako Kato, a spokeswoman at SCEI, said of the move to offer more information about the chip. SCEI is the Sony unit responsible for the company's PlayStation consoles.

PlayStation 3 is expected to launch in the first half of next year. It will be the first Cell-based product on the market. Toshiba has said it's looking at using the Cell in HD TVs, and Mercury Computer Systems has a deal with IBM that could see the Cell employed in computer systems.

Now the partners are looking to push beyond these limited applications and grow the market for the chip, which the four companies have spent several billion dollars developing, including manufacturing technologies.

The Cell is widely seen as one of the most powerful processors yet developed. It’s been tuned for multimedia applications that require fast processing and involve large amounts of data.

The chip that will sit in the PlayStation 3 will contain one 64bit Power PC core and eight additional multimedia processing cores. The cores can all support multiple operating systems and programming models through the use of virtualisation technologies. The Cell chip will use Rambus's XDR (extreme data rate) memory interface technology running at 3.2GHz, and will be able to handle 10 instruction threads at a given time.

Today's disclosure comes after higher-level technical details of the chip were published at the International Solid State Circuits Conference in San Francisco in February. That event marked the first time that the companies had offered detailed information on the processor. Today's documents represent the second big disclosure.

Documents from IBM are available at www.ibm.com/developerworks/power/cell , some of which require registration to view. SCEI is offering documents in English and Japanese at http://cell.scei.co.jp. Toshiba will make information available shortly, it said. A message board where questions about the Cell processor can be posted is also available on IBM's site.


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