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
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
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
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
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.