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The original 90nm Cell/B.E. package as found in the PlayStation 3  (Source: DailyTech)
PlayStation 3 CPU soon smaller, cooler, cheaper

In the continuing effort to advance production of the Cell Broadband Engine, IBM revealed yesterday at the International Solid State Circuits Conference (ISSCC) in San Francisco plans to migrate the processor to the 45nm high-k process.

The Cell Broadband Engine chip currently found in the latest PlayStation 3 hardware is manufactured on IBM’s 65nm SOI process, which was quietly introduced into the market with the 40GB PS3. The power consumption drop from the original launch model, which used a 90nm Cell/B.E., to the 40GB model made users take notice of the shift in manufacturing process.

The further shrink of the Cell/B.E. to 45nm will reduce power consumption by another 40 percent and die size by 34 percent, helping to cut costs. Current analyst estimates put the cost of manufacture per PlayStation 3 console at around $400, close to the MSRP of the entry-level 40GB console.

Even with the shift to 45nm, Sony may not immediately pass the cost savings onto the consumer. The PlayStation division finally turned a profit for the first time since the PS3 debut, a trend the company likely wishes to continue. In the long run, however, cheaper components pave the way for eventual price drops.

The upcoming 45nm Cell/B.E. benefits not only the PlayStation 3, as the chip in also used IBM Blade servers for industrial applications, such as medical imaging. Toshiba has also adapted the Cell/B.E. technology, which it calls the SpursEngine, for mobile graphical applications.

According to Ars Technica, IBM’s effort in shrinking the Cell/B.E. is done solely with Sony in mind. As the PlayStation 3 is the largest application of Cell/B.E. technology, IBM apparently tailored the smaller chip for cooler and cheaper consoles, rather than for increased performance and functionality. Such is hinted at an IBM document, stating, “To guarantee the proper operation of existing gaming software, the exact cycle-by-cycle machine behavior, including operating frequency, must be preserved.”

Such considerations for Sony by its partners are important for the console maker, as the company itself is getting out of the chip business. On April 1, Sony will be officially handing over control of Cell/B.E. manufacturing facilities to Toshiba. Sony also stated that it will cease R&D efforts on future 32nm chip processes, though it will remain active with Toshiba and IBM on future iterations of the Cell/B.E.



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RE: great news
By ImSpartacus on 2/7/2008 8:34:59 PM , Rating: 3
I am kind of skeptical about cell being better than a modern desktop cpu. But I think f@h with the ps3 is a good idea.

BTW- anyone have any info on cell's superiority to a modern x86 cpu? i'm not trying to criticize, I just would like to learn.


RE: great news
By daftrok on 2/7/2008 8:47:31 PM , Rating: 1
I think he meant when it comes to running folding@home, its much faster than a PC, which is true. Its almost as if the Cell Broadband Engine was MADE for Folding@home.


RE: great news
By geddarkstorm on 2/7/2008 9:18:24 PM , Rating: 2
I only have one thing to say to that...

dun Dun DUN!


RE: great news
By althaz on 2/9/2008 3:09:25 AM , Rating: 2
Except that it's still a lot slower than a high-endish GPU.


RE: great news
By Goty on 2/7/2008 9:39:19 PM , Rating: 3
The Cell B.E. is well-suited for the calculations performed in F@H primarily because it is highly parallel (the same reason that a GPU is incredibly well suited to the task), allowing it to perform many more calculations per clock than any modern x86 CPU. The drawback is that the Cell B.E. is somewhat limited in the types of work units it can compute when compared to an x86 processor.


RE: great news
By mars777 on 2/8/2008 8:24:34 AM , Rating: 2
If you take out the SPEs from the CELL processor you have a tipical general purpose Risc CPU. Not limited in any way on what it can or what it cannot. It can do anything a general purpose cpu can.


RE: great news
By Clauzii on 2/10/2008 5:29:13 PM , Rating: 2
Except that the speed of the PPC used in CELL is "only" comparable to a ~XP1800, I think it was.


RE: great news
By Ratwar on 2/7/2008 9:43:12 PM , Rating: 2
Basically it all comes down to being able to do massive parallelism in the Cell processor. Folding is probably just a lot of relatively simple calculations making it right up the PS3's alley.


RE: great news
By B3an on 2/7/2008 10:55:47 PM , Rating: 5
Exactly. The Cell is not more powerful than a modern PC CPU, it's just perfectly suited for F@H.
For PC based tasks even a low end Core 2 Duo would crap all over it.

John Carmack has pointed this out aswell, and that was around 2 years ago.


RE: great news
By B3an on 2/7/2008 11:05:36 PM , Rating: 3
I'd also like the mention that a modern GPU is superior to Cell with F@H because of it's parallel design. If you look at the most powerful processors on the F@H site they are GPU's.
But for non-parallel things a GPU and Cell will suck.


RE: great news
By masher2 (blog) on 2/7/2008 11:07:00 PM , Rating: 2
> "For PC based tasks even a low end Core 2 Duo would crap all over it."

Not quite. Cell does poorly on highly branchy code; it excels on any code that fits the SIMD model for which it was designed.

There are a lot of "PC based tasks" which aren't branch heavy, however.


RE: great news
By Clauzii on 2/9/2008 8:33:37 PM , Rating: 2
You should expect the Cell to be ~3 times faster than the current top consumer CPUs. (120 vs. 40 GFlops).

But as stated by others: GPUs tend to be MUCH faster for calculating, than anything else out there. I wonder why it takes so long to get drivers out that include math libraries written for GPUs...


RE: great news
By Clauzii on 2/10/2008 5:31:44 PM , Rating: 2
Oh, nedded to say the CELL used in PS3, since only 6 SPEs are avaiable to the user. (One is not used, and one used by the system.)


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