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An 8-core Cell procesor die
Cell processor reliability details may surprise you

As Sony's PlayStation 3 console nears its official release, more focus has turned to the technical wizardry that lays inside the actual machine. The Cell processor, developed by IBM, Sony and Toshiba, has gained a great deal of attention over the last year. In an interview with Electronic News however, IBM vice president of Semiconductor and Technology Services Tom Reeves says that his company is lucky if it can get 10% to 20% yields on the Cell processor.

The Cell processor is so complex that IBM even accepts chips that have only four out of the eight cores working. Not all cores end up functional says Reeves. In regards to why the yields are so low, Reeves says "[defects becomes a bigger problem the bigger the chip is. With chips that are one-by-one and silicon germanium, we can get yields of 95 percent. With a chip like the Cell processor, you’re lucky to get 10 or 20 percent. If you put logic redundancy on it, you can double that." According to Reeves, Sony will be using Cell processors whether they have all cores functional or not. Reeves says that the PlayStation 3 requires at least seven of the eight cores operational.

According to Reeves, IBM is still debating whether or not to discard the processors that have only six or less cores operational. Because of the design, the processors are still operational and can be used for various applications. IBM says that it will reserve the top chips for applications such as medical imaging and defense applications.

With Reeves' statements, it appears as though Sony will be producing PlayStation 3 consoles with different Cell processors -- some with all eight cores operational and some with just seven. Reeves however does not believe that Sony will offer different pricing for the machines and only time will tell if there will be performance differences. Reeves says however that users will not see any differences in speed. "The PlayStation 3 only uses seven of [the eight cores]. You'd have a spare."

In the interview, Reeves also talks about failure rate as there is a possibility that one of the cores in the Cell will "blow" at any given time. Reeves says that usually, testing during fabrication stages will detect whether a core or more will be problematic. Using electrical "fuses", IBM can "blow" out a core during wafer testing. When asked what would happen if a 7-core PlayStation 3 ends up losing another core during operation, Reeves stated that the user would simply send the unit back for replacement. Unfortunately, this only applies if the console is still under warranty -- if it isn't, the console is dead.

Over the last several months, speculation over the PlayStation 3's official retail costs have caused many gamers to sit up and take notice. Some analysts believe that Sony's new toy will cost too much to compete but Sony has said that the entry price will not affect the PlayStation 3's adoption. Considering the extremely low yields on the Cell processor in conjunction with extensive testing time to make sure final PlayStation 3 consoles ship with reliable processors, the high introductory pricing of the PlayStation 3 begins to show its true reasons. Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. (SCEI) president Ken Kutaragi previously said that if the PlayStation 3 was priced at $599, it would actually be "too cheap."


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OUCH
By ksherman on 7/13/2006 7:53:39 AM , Rating: 2
seems we keep getting more bad news about the PS3...

Seriuosly though, I would be pissed if near half of my chip was defective and that was just fine with the manufacturer...

So what does IBM do with the 80% that are too messed up to be used? melt them down and try again? can you do that? Seems like one more component that is driving the cost of producing the PS3 through the roof. I am of the belief that we wont see a PS3 this year... If we do, maybe I will buy one to put up on eBay :-)




RE: OUCH
By crazydingo on 7/13/2006 8:23:34 AM , Rating: 2
A Sony official will comment on this saying the Cell yeilds are EXCELLENT and that this IBM employee mixed up his numbers.

Later the IBM employee is fired. Oh wait! He is not a Sony employee. LOL


RE: OUCH
By threepac3 on 7/13/2006 10:26:05 AM , Rating: 2
IBM is not the only company that manufactures Cell processors. Sony themselves have fabs that build CELL processors. So if Sony says that there yeilds are "Excellent", you can't possibly equate that to mean IBM as well.


RE: OUCH
By Griswold on 7/13/2006 11:40:31 AM , Rating: 3
I dunno, but if IBM has yield problems, odds are that sony will have even bigger problems - or at least the same.


RE: OUCH
By Kilim on 7/13/2006 12:36:09 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah, if IBM is having problems, with their deserved reputation for engineering capability, I think Sony may be worse off.


RE: OUCH
By delta53 on 7/13/2006 10:33:57 PM , Rating: 2
Sony has fab plants but IBM is in the top two in the world (along with Intel). I don't believe that Sony has good enough fab plant to build the cell processor.


RE: OUCH
By Darkon on 7/16/2006 6:56:04 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
Sony has fab plants but IBM is in the top two in the world (along with Intel). I don't believe that Sony has good enough fab plant to build the cell processor.


your joking right ? sony has one of the most high tech semiconductor facilities around , Nagasaki fab is sony's crownjewel hell it's IBM who only has one fab that is capable of producing cell which Sony invested 36 billion in.


RE: OUCH
By Darkon on 7/16/2006 6:57:34 AM , Rating: 2
i meant 36 billion yen


RE: OUCH
By tuteja1986 on 7/14/2006 3:42:07 AM , Rating: 1
I knew about this ages ago ;( also its almost official that Cell processor clock speed will be reduced to 2.8Ghz. Also sony is sucking up all the Blu-ray LED for itself and giving its partners crap all.


simple solution
By Wwhat on 7/13/2006 1:58:15 PM , Rating: 2
Simple solution for PS3, 2 sockets, with 2 bad cell's with only 3 or 4 cores working, and voila, instant fix for poor yields.





RE: simple solution
By MAIA on 7/13/2006 2:05:43 PM , Rating: 2
You're joking ... right ?


hahh
By desiplaya4life on 7/13/2006 3:01:02 PM , Rating: 2
SOny think they have better yields than IBM-the pinnacle of engineering. I am definitely not purchasing a ps3 now. and the ibm rep fired? for what? speaking the truth. sheesh sony is just mad he blurted it out. If i purchase something i have the right to know the exact detail of that cell processor (whether how many cores are working) or else they are misleading the consumers thinking all 8 cores work when im paying for just 6-7.


RE: hahh
By secretanchitman on 7/13/2006 3:48:32 PM , Rating: 2
well i for one am NOT getting a ps3 even if it has .1 of a core disabled. if im paying 500-600 bucks for a goddamned console, i better be getting my moneys worth. stupid ken kutaragi or whatever his name is, he thinks that the ps3 is priced too cheap. well sony, you should have used tried and true components instead of completely new technology which youve had years to develop and now is getting poor yields for all 8 cores to be functional. i absolutely refuse to get a ps3 that has less than 8 cores FULLY available.

sony, you are surely pissing some people off. ill be darned surprised if you get even 1 working ps3 out the door in november.


RE: simple solution
By Wwhat on 7/13/2006 11:33:21 PM , Rating: 2
How so? the cell is designed to be interconnected, so it should work, and if they seriously have a yield that low then I don't see what other choice there is, they want to sell a console with some profit, or minimal loss, and don't forget, it's sony, it's not like their qualitystandards are the highest on the planet now are they?


RE: simple solution
By MAIA on 7/14/2006 7:02:23 AM , Rating: 2
Work ? Yes, it should work, but only after Sony re-designs a significant part of the console architecture. That means more investment, and more money and time wasted. There would be two architectures to support, that would double some of the parts needed in terms of production and warranty. Sony would loose even more money, not profit.

Tech-wise speaking, even if cell is designed to be interconnected, two processors working on SMP is a whole different picture than one CPU having several cores. SMP require more flow logic control and communication between CPU's is much slower. As i see it, it's a no-go at all.


RE: simple solution
By Wwhat on 7/14/2006 8:40:09 PM , Rating: 2
Well from memory of glanced-over newsitems I seem to recall that the CELL is specifically designed to be very easily expanded by simply plugging in more of them, and if this is so they could just put in an extra PCB to hold them, a classic 'slotket' if you will, I know it's a bit farfetched in a way, but so is 10% yield on an actual shipping CPU..
I guess we'd need a cell-cpu expert to tell how possible it is in practise.


RE: simple solution
By Tyler 86 on 7/16/2006 6:55:37 AM , Rating: 2
1 core = 1 PPU, 7 or 8 SPEs, 256MB CPU accessible
2 cores = 2 PPUs, 6 to 8 SPEs, 256-512MB accessible

Yeah, they can just plug another one in if they make 'em like they need 'em made to do that...

The SPE & PPU assignment can be done by the PS3's software, the only problem is how much does two half cost over one full? Heck, it might even be cheaper... but somehow, I doubt it...
All the chips, 1 SPE functional, to 8 SPEs functional, are the same size on silicon...



RE: simple solution
By Tyler 86 on 7/16/2006 6:58:19 AM , Rating: 2
Maybe they'll take a page out of Intel's book, ala first iteration Pentium D, and put 2 pieces of Cell CPU silicon on a single Cell package... that'd save 'em the retooling of the motherboards, but it'd probably do something exponential to thermal dissipation requirements...


Definately NOT getting a PS3!
By DigitalFreak on 7/13/2006 9:35:15 AM , Rating: 2
Now we hear that it's possible one of the cores could blow-out? In the decades I've been dealing with technology, I've never heard anyone say that their chip could blow out. It will be interesting to see what the failure rate for the PS3 is once it's released.




RE: Definately NOT getting a PS3!
By PrinceGaz on 7/13/2006 9:47:52 AM , Rating: 2
If it fails you can always return it under warranty. And if the warrany has expired, you can buy another one :)


RE: Definately NOT getting a PS3!
By threepac3 on 7/13/2006 10:22:20 AM , Rating: 2
It was stated in the article that the chips are extensively tested.

Anyways Sony needs 7 cores working, but they will still use the Cells with the 8 SPE's and just disable the 8th core.


RE: Definately NOT getting a PS3!
By MAIA on 7/13/2006 1:52:10 PM , Rating: 2
Lol, they are having problems with the lack of cores, not the opposite.

Anyway, why having the trouble to disable a working core if it works with either 7 or 8 ? Just for the kicks ?

Does not compute ...


RE: Definately NOT getting a PS3!
By MAIA on 7/13/2006 2:20:33 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Now we hear that it's possible one of the cores could blow-out? In the decades I've been dealing with technology, I've never heard anyone say that their chip could blow out.


Come on ... that's an expression and should not be taken literally.

Regarding the expression used in this article, no, it won't explode on your face like a Sideshow Bob trick on Crusty. BUT, any electric equipment can blow out, given the right circumstances, and of course, the right equipment.

Anyway, have you ever tried taking out a cooler while a CPU is running ? AMD CPU that is ...


RE: Definately NOT getting a PS3!
By lemonadesoda on 7/13/2006 7:07:57 PM , Rating: 2
Yes. I had two AMD K6-III burn out on me due to poor (or no) thermal control. These babies cost a fortune in their day. Cost me a fortune! Never bought an AMD since then.

I know AMD has improved a lot, but twice burned, four times shy.


RE: Definately NOT getting a PS3!
By Tyler 86 on 7/16/2006 6:29:57 AM , Rating: 2
Err, Wow. Live heatsink removal.
Dude. PEBKAC. Totally. WTF mate?


By MercenaryForHire on 7/13/2006 9:16:54 AM , Rating: 1
Where's the demarc point for this yield number - four cores, or the "7+" required for the PS3?

If it's the latter, then the title is kind of misleading in that the Cell is getting a better raw yield, just not a "Sony Approved" yield.

... And I give myself a confused look for considering a chip that's half-broken (4/8 cores) as a success.

- M4H




By OrSin on 7/13/2006 9:32:39 AM , Rating: 2
10-20% yield is on on all 8 cores working. But IBM can use chips with even only 4 working. Sony needs at least 7. So the chips with 8 working are mostly going to military and medical people. 7 going to Sony. Any above 4 is going to held for people that only need 4. That means final working yield numbers are probably around 70%-80%. So its not that bad.

Remember a even half broke chips is still 4 full cores. Four cores is not bad thing.


By Burning Bridges on 7/13/2006 9:40:24 AM , Rating: 2
Just like an AMD X2 with a dead core is still as fast as a single core A64 (in theory, don't try it to prove me wrong kkthx ;) )

If they put them into physics processing or other boards then they could still make some nice products :)


By MercenaryForHire on 7/13/2006 9:44:30 AM , Rating: 1
Ah. Well, that's sort of an unclear title - that makes you think that only 10-20% of the Cell processors can be used at all . The concept of "partially functional" isn't new to GPUs, but to CPUs it still is.

- M4H


By dagamer34 on 7/13/2006 11:35:47 AM , Rating: 1
Those aren't "cores" on the Cell, the are SPE's. Large difference in that they are still only controlled by a central PowerPC CPU.

As far as I know, you can offload tasks to a SPE, but they don't function on their own like a true core in a CPU would.


By dome1234 on 7/13/2006 11:57:47 AM , Rating: 2
read somewhere that they're switching from 90nm to 65nm later this year or next year. I'm no semicond expect, but yield should go up. Anyway the cell on ps3 is set at lower specs as a full functional cell have 1 ppu and 8 spe running at 4GHz. ps3's 3.2GHz (if i remember correctly) and 7 spe.


By Darkon on 7/16/2006 7:01:39 AM , Rating: 3
Those aren't "cores" on the Cell, the are SPE's. Large difference in that they are still only controlled by a central PowerPC CPU.

spe's are cores , and they do function on there one read the cell whitedocs on IBM.


Sony having problems?
By PitbulI on 7/13/2006 12:20:18 PM , Rating: 2
If this is indeed true, Sony could be having some big problems ahead for themselves.

I say this because if the Cell is as wonky as this article points out then PS3's all over will be burning out because there are gamers that will play this machine for hours upon hours.

However, I think some things will be changed for the PS3 so it won't seem that big of a deal when they won't have the power they claimed they had. The PS3 will sell but I don't think as well as Sony thinks.




RE: Sony having problems?
By masher2 (blog) on 7/13/2006 12:28:48 PM , Rating: 2
> "I say this because if the Cell is as wonky as this article points out then PS3's all over will be burning out because there are gamers that will play this machine for hours upon hours. "

Eh? Why would Cell be burning out? I think you're reading too much into a yield rate figure. A poor yield is in no way indicative of future reliability.


RE: Sony having problems?
By PitbulI on 7/13/2006 12:34:33 PM , Rating: 2
Perhaps. I don't wish Sony to fail though so this isn't a fan boy observation.

I remember my 23 year old Sony Trinitron TV, still works great. I have had a few Sony products but lately I find just as good if not better quality products from Toshiba and other companies.


RE: Sony having problems?
By MAIA on 7/13/2006 2:04:19 PM , Rating: 2
I believe no one thinks you're using fanboyism rethoric here, but i don't agree with this argument ...

quote:
I say this because if the Cell is as wonky as this article points out then PS3's all over will be burning out because there are gamers that will play this machine for hours upon hours.


... mostly because it's a wrong perspective on this issue. First because i take this announcements with a grain of salt and don't think it's a good idea to jump into conclusions that fast. And second because playing hours upon hours with a tested equipment is not a reason to start burning CPU all around. My old spectrum, msx and even my atari 2600 were on 24/7 and they never said "ouch", why should i believe such an advanced hardware as the PS3 would burn ?


RE: Sony having problems?
By Alexvrb on 7/14/2006 12:31:14 AM , Rating: 2
Probably because those are old systems that were built like tanks, and NOT built by Sony. Sony systems are the only ones I've had fail, so far, ranging from the 2600 to the 360. That's not to say they're the only consoles that break, but lets just say that more than a few people had to replace their PSX prematurely, and are on their second or third PS2 (or PSTwo by now, like me).


RE: Sony having problems?
By Tyler 86 on 7/16/2006 6:43:23 AM , Rating: 2
Tanks my ass...
They're less fragile because they're less complicated.
Like the all pre-packaged hardware, such as PCs from name-brands like Dell, HP, or VooDoo, the XBox 360, and all previous game console; releasing anything to market without cooking it first to see what happens isn't good policy.

Sony has already been through that with the PS2.
I don't know if their PS3 yeilds are going to drop because they're innately more complicated, and more things can go wrong, or not... but I do know they won't hand over defective consoles on purpose.

Microsoft had that thing with the power supplies, but that wasn't really a big hardware concern... then they had some problems with heatsinks... that's a bigger problem... but all of those passed their internal testing, and behaved relativly well dispite their disqualifications.

I don't think we're going to see a huge issue with the PS3's integrity.

We might get to see a huge issue with Sony though.

Here's to investors and suckers alike; May Sony's PS3 gamble stay the course...


So Complex its hard to make
By wingless on 7/13/2006 10:31:34 AM , Rating: 2
I think this is good news. Sony comes up with hardware so advanced they can barely manufacture it. Atleast they stay ahead of the curve but damn, the consumer has to pay for the cost. I think just like the PS2, itll take 2 or 3 years for the PS3 to mature into something great. When the PS2 first came out it had nothing but crappy games and low support as well. History tends to repeat itself.




RE: So Complex its hard to make
By sxr7171 on 7/13/2006 11:02:04 AM , Rating: 1
Yeah but stupid people will pay $1200+ on Ebay to wait two or three years for a decent game to come out for it.


RE: So Complex its hard to make
By Soccerman06 on 7/17/2006 3:08:36 PM , Rating: 2
I thought MGS4 was a launch title. Your calling MSG4 a bad game?


RE: So Complex its hard to make
By dali71 on 7/19/2006 3:24:41 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
I thought MGS4 was a launch title. Your calling MSG4 a bad game?

Think again. MGS4 is slated for a Q4 2007 release date.


Developers?
By AstroCreep on 7/13/2006 7:57:01 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
The Cell processor, developed by Sony and IBM...


Wasn't Cell developed by Sony, IBM, and Toshiba?




RE: Developers?
By Tuan Nguyen on 7/13/2006 8:04:17 AM , Rating: 2
Sorry about that. Fixed.


Tuan


RE: Developers?
By Lonyo on 7/13/2006 8:04:34 AM , Rating: 2
Yes


Extra Cells will compete with Ageia
By rupaniii on 7/13/2006 8:15:22 AM , Rating: 2
Given it's native application, and the fact that IBM has in the past demonstrated a 4 Unit Cell doing heavy Physics work, i'd think the other 80% will filter into the market. 6 good cores will goto medical imaging
4 good cores to Physics processing. Something like that. I'd like to get a 1xPCIE board that did something for a change!




RE: Extra Cells will compete with Ageia
By PrinceGaz on 7/13/2006 9:41:51 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
6 good cores will goto medical imaging


You can't seriously believe the best chips (7 or 8 functional SPE) would be used in the PS3, while the next best (6 SPE) would be used for medical-imaging? That sort of equipment costs orders of magnitude more than the PS3, they and other expensive devices will get the few 8 SPE units while the PS3 gets those with 7 SPE (and any spare 8 SPE units, with one disabled).


By MAIA on 7/13/2006 1:45:27 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
You can't seriously believe the best chips (7 or 8 functional SPE) would be used in the PS3, while the next best (6 SPE) would be used for medical-imaging? That sort of equipment costs orders of magnitude more than the PS3, they and other expensive devices will get the few 8 SPE units while the PS3 gets those with 7 SPE (and any spare 8 SPE units, with one disabled).


A medical-imaging device costs more than a PS3 because it has more parts and they're more complicated. You can't define the price of a certain equipment only based on the CPU. Besides, what tells you a medical-imaging device needs more power than the PS3 ? That's like comparing a price/performance ratio between a Ferrari and a RollsRoyce. What's cheaper and what's faster ?


Research-like yield...
By kitchme on 7/13/2006 10:56:49 AM , Rating: 2
It's obvious from the yield that the this type of manufacturing of multi-core chips is at infancy. 10-20% yield is something that you would get while researching. That's a huge risk taken by Sony to put such chip into their new console. Especially if you get a chip with 7 out of 8 cores and "there is a possibility that one of the cores in the Cell could "blow" at any given time", and render the whole console useless.




RE: Research-like yield...
By TomZ on 7/13/2006 11:31:51 AM , Rating: 2
As was explained in the article, having a core "blow" in the field is really unlikely. It's not anything to be concerned about.


Failure
By AppaYipYip on 7/13/2006 8:48:21 AM , Rating: 1
Yet another reason to not buy a PS3. Nintendo FTW!




RE: Failure
By Tsuwamono on 7/17/2006 11:36:53 PM , Rating: 2
yay lets all buy a Craptastic Revolution... (is the sarcasm prominent enough?)


And entire interview
By Phynaz on 7/13/06, Rating: 0
RE: And entire interview
By wil2xl on 7/13/2006 10:09:05 AM , Rating: 2
from what im reading the article talks about cell yields, manufacturing, core reliability and what sony might do with the ps3. not sure where your getting the 'single statement' from. cell processor from ibm is the single most important news bit coming up for sony anyway.


warranty
By Chernobyl68 on 7/17/2006 2:17:22 PM , Rating: 2
so if I had to replace the unit...how long is the warranty? 90 days?





Buy at costco
By ChuckvB on 7/24/2006 12:28:27 PM , Rating: 2
I don't directly care if one or all eight work cores work if the console reliably and perfectly and does the job it was promised to do. Who knows or cares about something that's not being used in their PC and never will be?

My plan is simple. Buy it at Costco, test it with a blue-ray movie, and a couple of games. If it ever does not live up to the requirements to play the games and movies it was designed for, I'll return it for a full refund. If it works keep it and don't give a dam what's inside. Period.





By rupaniii on 7/13/2006 8:27:08 AM , Rating: 1
Yes, the Cell has the effect of activating the Hot Coaco mod in Grand Theft Auto: Nothing to See Here Again in Vegas edition for PS3. Check above, it's Gamers.




Considering...
By Chadder007 on 7/13/2006 8:37:53 AM , Rating: 1
Considering the look and complexity of the actual working games Sony has shown for the PS3....Why do they even need all 7 cores? Looks like they could probably get by with just 4 and use those chips. Real time gameplay hasn't looked much better than the XBox360.




;)
By Visual on 7/13/2006 9:43:41 AM , Rating: 1
i think its about time sony announces that the PS3 will use 2 (or 4?) dualcore x86 cpus instead of cell :p a couple of x2 3800+ will make me perfectly happy if i can get them for $599 as announced, but i think i'd settle even for two of intel's 805 or 920 or somesuch :)

i wonder what cpus the developer platforms and the machines running demos and stuff have. i know they've been setup with normal desktop gfx cards like 7900gt, maybe with sli, maybe they can run desctop cpus just as well?




Good.
By sxr7171 on 7/13/2006 11:03:41 AM , Rating: 1
I'd like to see Sony Computer Entertainment buried forever leaving a void for a real gaming company like Sega to fill.






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