Cell Broadband Engine in its natural habitat
First ever course on the Cell Broadband Engine completed

The Cell Broadband Engine is widely known as a powerful but rather complex chip to work with. IBM and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), however, are helping to educate students on the unorthodox processor with the first program in the U.S. structured around the capabilities of the Cell Broadband Engine. IBM, Sony, and Toshiba collaborated on helping to fund the course and Sony group provided the PS3 hardware to be used by students.

During the four-week course in January, students not only learned about the new microprocessor, but designed and implemented projects to run directly on PS3 system using open standards software. The student team with the best project – a 3D version of the classic pong game – later presented their work and discussed their experience at the Game Developer Conference in March 7 2007.

The course, which focused around introducing parallel programming to students, was taught by Saman Amarasinghe, a professor in MIT's Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and Dr. Rodric Rabbah of IBM.

“The fact that students – with no background in parallel programming or the Cell/B.E. – were able to get their projects done from scratch in just about one month largely goes to show the capability and determination of our students, coupled with the availability of a robust toolchain for Cell/B.E. development,” said Amarasinghe.

“Cell/B.E. is going to be an underlying architecture that has the potential to be included in a wide range of industry applications and solutions in the future,” said Dr. Rabbah. “This course was able to break down the details of a highly complex microprocessor and challenge students to see where the performance, power and versatility could be applied outside of gaming. Based on the feedback we received from the students, it was a tremendous success.”

A Web site hosted by the Computer Architecture Group at MIT has more information on the course, including demo source code and video. IBM is also currently hosting the Cell University Challenge programming contest for students in 25 different countries, offering cash prizes and awards for the most innovative applications on the Cell/B.E.

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