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Tuesday, May 24, 2005

PS3: The Entertainment Computer - More Cell Details Revealed

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PlayStation 3: PS3: The Entertainment Computer

"PS3 is, according to Kutaragi, a 'computer for the purpose of entertainment.' Kutaragi reveals that he's managed Sony Computer Entertainment under the idea of bringing computing power to entertainment. Brushing off the notion of the 'Media Center PC,' Kutaragi states, 'The PS3 is a computer made in order to realize entertainment. Entertainment is not just games, but has many different elements, and the PS3 offers functionality for all of these.'

This means, says Kutaragi, that 'The PS3 is not an architecture that is biased towards games.' And for the little ones out there, 'It's not a computer for kids.'

Kutaragi offers some added insights into the system (beyond semantics) in the PC Watch interview. At first making mention of the Cell project with Toshiba and IBM, he's quick to turn focus to NVIDIA and the new RSX graphics processor (GPU) that will be powering the graphics side of the PS3. 'We created a road map for the future with Jensen (Jensen Huang, NVIDIA's CEO),' explains Kutaragi, 'and the RSX is the entrance to that road map. The uninformed believe that that this is an adaptation of a personal computer GPU, but in actuality, the architectures are completely different.'

Some differences from a standard computer architecture are mentioned by Kutaragi in the interview. Both Cell and the RSX have access to both main memory (256 megabytes) and video memory (256 megabytes), allowing Cell to use video memory as main memory and RSX to use main memory as video memory. This means, according to Kutaragi, that there'll be no need for wasteful copying of data between the Cell and RSX. Getting specific, Kutaragi offers, 'The RSX can directly refer to the results of simulations made by the Cell, with Cell being able to directly refer to the shape of objects that RSX has shaded.'

The Cell is also touched upon in the interview. Remember all that stuff about the new processor being used to turn your house into a matrix of Cell-based products? According to Kutaragi, that plan is still in place.

"Next Spring," reveals Kutaragi, "Cell will enter your home in the form of the PS3. Within it are seven SPE ("processing units" that form the basis of the Cell design), but users will likely view it as nothing more than a single piece of hardware. But the PS3 has gigabit Ethernet from the start, and with one Gbps (gigabit per second), if you increase the number of Cells in your house, the Cells can instantly connect." Within the home, Kutaragi mentions the possibility of other Cells appearing in the form of home servers or other PS3 units. He also suggests a more distant form of connection, stating "At the 100Mbps (megabit per second) level, [the Cell chips] can also connect through the internet.""

Kutaragi: PlayStation 3 "is not a game machine"

"'The PS3 is the product we have been aiming for since the establishment of SCEI,' said Kutaragi. 'We haven't been creating our [past] PlayStations for the sake of games. Our belief, and the motivation behind running our company, has been to [explore ways of] applying the power of computers to entertainment and enjoyment. We equipped the original PlayStation with a 3D graphics chip, and we equipped the PS2 with the Emotion engine. The PS3 isn't designed to lean towards games. It's not a computer for children. In the sense that our goal has been [to create] a computer that's meant for entertainment, you could say that the original PlayStation and PlayStation 2 had existed as steps towards the PlayStation 3.'

'With the original PlayStation, our intentions were to bring SGI-quality graphics into households. With the PS3, our intentions have been to create a machine with supercomputer calculation capabilities for home entertainment. That's why we teamed up with IBM, which is known for its supercomputers, and codeveloped the Cell together with them and Toshiba,' said Kutaragi.

'PCs that are currently available have been created as work tools. They've begun selling computers with media playback capabilities, such as the Media Center PC, but those just imitate the functions of home electronics. It's not like those machines have been created solely for entertainment. On the other hand, the PS3 has been created [specifically] as a computer for entertainment. Entertainment refers to a lot of things, and not just to games. The PS3 will be able to provide powerful functions for all of the [imaginable] forms of entertainment,' commented Kutaragi.

When asked about the difference in concept between Microsoft's Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3, Kutaragi commented, 'I can understand the [Xbox 360's] approach of adopting multiple, all-purpose processors. However, that will just raise integer calculation "

The Cell Processor Explained, Part 4: Cell V's the PC
The Cray Factor

"The 'Cray factor' is something to which Intel, AMD, Nvidia and ATI may have no answer to.

What is apparent from the patent is the approach the designers have taken in developing the Cell architecture. There are many compromises that can be taken when designing a system like this, in almost every case the designers have not compromised and gone for performance, even if the job of the programmers has been made considerably more difficult.

The Cell design is very different from modern microprocessors, seemingly irremovable parts have been changed radically or removed altogether. The rule of computing, fundamental to modern computing - abstraction - is abandoned altogether, no JITs here, you get direct access to the hardware. This is a highly aggressive design strategy, much more aggressive than you'll find in any other system, even in it's heyday the Alpha processor's design was nowhere near this aggressive. In their quest for pure, unadulterated, raw performance the designers have devised a processor which can only be compared to something designed by Seymour Cray [Cray]."

The last quoted article is actually from a complete writeup on the Cell Architechture. Since the software will have direct access to hardware aliviates many bottleknecks. Both CPU & GPU will be able to directly access all memory (graphics and system). The more I read about the Cell processor, the Xbox 360 seems to me to be more of a PowerMac in a slim fancy box. Sony, Toshiba and IBM have made many innovations that open a new horizon of possibilities

Cell Architecture Explained
Introducing the IBM/Sony/Toshiba Cell Processor — Part I: the SIMD processing units
Introducing the IBM/Sony/Toshiba Cell Processor -- Part II: The Cell Architecture

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