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Thursday, September 01, 2005

Cell CPU could take PS3 beyond gaming, into Linux

IBM lead architect: Cell CPU could take PS3 beyond gaming, into Linux

"In his first in-depth interview since releasing the version 1.0 specification for IBM's Cell microprocessor last week, the principal developer of the CPU's innovative new synergistic processor elements (SPE) tells Tom's Hardware Guide> he sees Sony's PlayStation 3 - the first major platform to utilize Cell - as the driver for a new general-purpose programming environment, using Linux but bypassing the PC.

Responding to our story last Thursday on the release by IBM that morning of the 1.0 specs, Cell's chief architect, Dr. H. Peter Hofstee, advised us not to characterize the SPEs as specialized co-processors, dedicated to occasional tasks such as graphics or arithmetic. In that story, we compared SPEs to the co-processors of old, and characterized them as subordinate to the principal processing element of the Cell system, the Power Processing Element (PPE), based on the existing PowerPC architecture. But in doing so, Dr. Hofstee warned, we tended toward a trap into which others have fallen, in which the role of the SPEs appears to be reduced in importance. More than just co-processors, Dr. Hofstee said, the SPEs are fully-capable processing units that are capable not only of running threads spawned off from a main program, but also running "single-core," scalar programs in their entirety - not only multithreading, but multitasking.

But also, in making that distinction, Dr. Hofstee wanted to make certain we recognized the Cell as a powerful general-purpose processor. "[Cell] is already fairly general-purpose, even today," he said, "but of course, over time, we expect it to go even further. Over time, [whether] it is going to become the new general-purpose standard, that is to be determined." In characterizing the general-purpose nature of Cell, he told us that development systems used by IBM today are running Linux, and that general-purpose applications are being developed using a suite of Linux-based tools." [more]

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