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Nikkie Electronics Asia: hints at twin-Cell chip configuration for PlayStation3

Discussion in 'Intel' started by a link to the past, May 2, 2005.

  1. here is that exact quote so you don't have to look for it below

    " In these secret labs there are development boards the size of pillows,
    mounting twin Cell chips with little air-cooled heat sinks small enough to
    sit in the palm of your hand. Development is under way on 3D graphic draw
    libraries for gaming, HDTV demodulation software, and more"

    could this be a hint that PS3 will have twin-Cell CPUs ? that would be a
    total of 18 cores, 9 per chip

    -1 PPE (PowerPC) and 8 SPEs (workhorse processors) per Cell chip-

    here's the whole article


    Can Sony Dominate with Cell?

    SCE has begun pushing the Cell microprocessor as its next strategy. If the
    firm's aim can be realized, the Sony Group could become a semiconductor

    Can Sony Computer Entertainment Inc (SCE) of Japan pull off its third major
    success? The first was in 1994, when the company utilized new compact disk
    read-only memory (CD-ROM) media to shoe-horn itself into a leading position
    in the home game system market, succeeding in spite of the fact that the
    market was almost entirely locked up by leaders Nintendo Co, Ltd of Japan
    and Sega Enterprises Ltd of Japan. The second success was in 2000, when the
    home game system market was in the doldrums with old technology, and SCE
    introduced the latest semiconductor technology to attain an unmovable
    position in the game industry even while being condemned for its "epic game"

    But will there be a third success? In 2005, SCE has begun pushing the Cell
    next-generation microprocessor as its next strategy. The Cell IC is not
    designed only for use in game systems, but is intended for application in
    everything from home servers to TVs, mobile phones and workstations. The
    firm also plans to aggressively push Cell on the merchant market, nurturing
    technology born from game systems into a platform for diverse networked
    equipment. If the firm's dream can be realized it will mean that the Sony
    Group holds a core part of the network era, which could make it into a
    semiconductor major. This is part of the reason that Ken Kutaragi, executive
    deputy president and chief operating officer (COO) of Sony Corp of Japan,
    always seems to mention Intel Corp of the US as a potential competitor in
    various developments.

    Long-Term Strategy

    The presentation at the International Solid-State Circuits Conference
    (ISSCC) 2005, where the Cell was revealed, was standing-room-only as people
    packed the several hundred seats for a glimpse.

    Is Cell really that great? Of the chip outline presented at the conference,
    the audience was especially intrigued by the very high floating-point
    operation speed, hitting 256 GFLOPS at 4GHz. (256 GFLOPS is over 40 times
    higher than the Emotion Engine mounted in SCE's PlayStation 2, and over 15
    times higher than Intel's Pentium 4.)

    The real quality of Cell is not in the operating frequency or
    number-crunching prowess of the prototype chip, however, but in the internal
    architecture. Advances in semiconductor manufacturing technology and the
    sharp rise in the number of internal operators have made this structure
    essential to continue to meet diversifying applications from digital
    appliances to computers. In addition, engineers are also working on an
    environment that will make it possible to network multiple Cells together to
    act like a single computer. The goal is to leverage the chip's flexibility
    and expansibility to make it a core component for the electronics industry,
    and keep it that way over the long term. "We wanted to make an architecture
    that would be valid for at least a decade," said James Kahle, IBM fellow,
    Broadband Processor Technology, Microelectronics Div, IBM Corp of the US,
    emphasizing the future-oriented design of the chip. The prototype chip is
    merely the first step in realizing this goal, merely a starting point.

    The basic concept of Cell was firmed up in the spring of 2001, when the
    joint development lab was established by SCE, IBM and Toshiba Corp of Japan
    in Austin, Texas. SCE and Toshiba engineers flew to the US for the initial
    meeting with IBM on the Cell concept, meeting a host of top IBM engineers,
    such as people in charge of developing the POWER4 server microprocessor. The
    scale of the development team was gradually boosted to several hundred
    people, mostly engineers from IBM. The fact that IBM, the former leader in
    the mainframe world, contributed so heavily to the development of an IC for
    home game systems clearly demonstrates how the key driver in electronics
    technology has shifted from computers to home electronics (Figs 1 and 2).


    Product Development

    The disclosed specs for the prototype chip were not maxed-out data created
    for the conference. The development team has confirmed operation at up to
    5.2GHz on the first prototype chip obtained in April 2004, but the ISSCC
    presentations on Cell merely stated "4GHz or higher". More than likely, the
    companies are expecting to use about 4GHz in actual equipment for reasons of
    higher IC yield, lower dissipation and simplified board design. The initial
    chip exhibited no problems with logical operations, and was able to boot the
    operating system (OS). Dissipation, however, was a major issue. Masakazu
    Suzuoki, VP, Microprocessor Development Dept, Semiconductor Business Div at
    SCE, feels that this has been resolved: "We had a difficult time reducing
    dissipation at the start, but finally found the solution in the second half
    of 2004."


    Cell chips will be used in home game systems by SCE, high-definition TV
    (HDTV)-capable digital TVs and home servers by Sony, and HDTV-capable
    digital TVs by Toshiba by 2006. Hardware and software for these products is
    now being developed simultaneously at multiple sites in the US and Japan.
    Entry into the development areas is strictly controlled, so very few
    engineers have actually seen Cell chips in operation. In these secret labs
    there are development boards the size of pillows, mounting twin Cell chips
    with little air-cooled heat sinks small enough to sit in the palm of your
    hand. Development is under way on 3D graphic draw libraries for gaming, HDTV
    demodulation software, and more.

    Leading the Era

    The Cell chip is a multicore design, single-chipping the general-purpose
    central processing unit (CPU) core to run the OS and handle other tasks, and
    multiple signal processors called synergistic processing elements (SPE). The
    prototype chip has the IBM Power-architecture general-purpose CPU core and
    eight SPEs.

    The circuit configuration has been simplified as much as possible so that
    the CPU core and the SPEs can operate together at 4GHz or higher. This is
    because the complex instruction scheduling that has become so common in
    high-performance microprocessors lately tends to boost core footprints and
    dissipation both.

    The quantity of SPEs per Cell will vary with the performance the equipment
    requires and the scale of the circuits to be integrated into the chip, but
    will always be an even number. The CPU core is not dependent on any specific
    architecture, and ignoring business-related factors could easily be designed
    to use ARM for mobile phones and MIPS for desktop equipment, for example. In
    fact, IBM appears to be developing a separate Cell chip using a totally
    different CPU core.
    The Cell design approach based on the simplified CPU core and signal
    processors is leading the way for design trends in microprocessors as they
    move towards multicore design. As Justin Rattner, senior fellow, Corporate
    Technology Group and senior director, Microprocessor Technology Lab at Intel
    explained, top people in the industry share the same opinion: "In the
    future, it will be crucial to design microprocessors by single-chipping
    multiple simple CPU cores."

    Flexible Interfaces

    The design approach aiming for application in diverse systems is evident in
    the system interface linking Cell to peripheral ICs, too. The physical layer
    is the FlexIO high-speed parallel transfer technology developed by Rambus
    Inc of the US. The interface is 12 bytes wide, with seven bytes used for
    output and five for input. Depending on the specific peripheral ICs used,
    the widths can be freely adjusted in 1-byte units, supporting a maximum of
    two peripheral ICs (Fig 3).


    The per-pin peak data rate for FlexIO is a high 6.4 Gbits/s, which is higher
    than the 2.5 Gbits/s delivered by existing PCI Express serial transfer, or
    even 5 Gbits/s second-generation PCI Express technology. As a result, the
    system interface offers a peak data rate of 76.8 Gbytes/s, roughly ten times
    faster than the Pentium 4.

    The adoption of FlexIO seems to have been due in part to the fact that it
    can be used with inexpensive clock ICs. This is crucial in keeping costs
    down in consumer electronics products costing hundreds of dollars. FlexIO
    incorporates a circuit to dynamically ensure clock signal jitter due to
    supply voltage fluctuation, making it possible to hit a per-pin rate of 6.4
    Gbits/s even using clock ICs with relatively high jitter.

    Swallowing ASICs

    Behind this major shift in design policy are the facts that it is time for
    another change in architecture, which generally occurs every five years as
    semiconductor manufacturing technology advances, and that
    application-specific ICs (ASIC) for individual products pose increased
    development load.

    In the five years since the development of the Emotion Engine semiconductor
    geometry has shrunk considerably. It has been possible for microprocessors
    on chips of given areas to boost processing performance by ten times over
    this period through architecture revamps. This is sufficient to even make
    the shift to a whole new platform worthwhile. The difference in performance
    between the prototype Cell and the first-generation Emotion Engine is 40x,
    but they are about the same size: 221mm2 for the former, and 226mm2 for the
    latter. This is on a par with the Pentium 4, manufactured with 180nm
    technology, at 217mm2.

    With number-crunching performance of 256 GFLOPS, it becomes possible to
    implement almost all of the signal processing demanded by digital consumer
    electronics in software. Encoding demanded by Moving Picture Coding Experts
    Group Phase 2 (MPEG-2) for standard-definition TV (SDTV), for example, can
    be executed for several dozen streams in parallel. This means that all of
    the various signal processing circuits currently implemented in individual
    ASICs can be replaced by the Cell. For applications like mobile phones where
    signal processing performance does not need to be very high, the quantity of
    SPEs can be reduced in a special Cell, cutting chip footprint and

    Full Use of Silicon

    One advantage of the Cell, which can vary the quantity of SPEs to control
    number-crunching capability, is that it will prove very handy in the future
    by providing the increasing performance digital consumer electronics needs.

    Take H.264 encoding, for example. The prototype chip can handle encoding of
    multiple SDTV video streams in parallel, but only one HDTV stream. If HDTV
    imagery is being recorded to Blu-ray Disc media with H.264, for example, the
    system would require even higher performance in order to be able to
    simultaneously play a game or execute other applications. Other demands are
    also being raised calling for boosted performance in digital consumer
    electronics, such as an image recognition function to make it possible to
    search for a particular scene within massive imagery records.

    With Cell it is possible to develop a microprocessor satisfying the
    requirements much faster than an ASIC, just by increasing the quantity of
    SPEs. A large number of signal processing operations in digital consumer
    electronics are executed in pixel units, making it fairly easy to execute
    them through parallel processing and gain maximum effect from an increase in
    SPE quantity.

    The fact that performance can be boosted without changing chip size, just by
    increasing the number of SPEs, also contributes to maintaining a high
    capacity usage ratio at the fab. If advances in semiconductor manufacturing
    technology are only used to shrink chips it will be necessary to produce
    cheap chips in volume, increasing the time needed to recover the capital
    investment into the facility (Fig 4).


    Hardware, Software

    Cell is more than just the IC: it only achieves full performance when it is
    used in conjunction with the software. It will not be a trivial task to
    apply all the power offered by the nine processors in the Cell, including
    the CPU core, to add value to the host equipment. Balancing the load
    effectively between the cores will require writing code from a solid
    understanding of Cell architecture, and that means sophisticated software
    technology. As one engineer involved in Cell development commented,
    "Engineers who have only been involved in developing software for
    general-purpose microprocessors are going to have to relearn everything from
    the ground up. People who have been involved in ASIC development might be
    better suited to writing code for Cell."

    Each company is involved in its own software development project, and it
    appears, for example, that multiple varieties of Linux running on Cell
    already exist. While the firms cooperated in the development of the
    microprocessor, they remain rivals when it comes to Cell-driven products in
    the marketplace.

    While software development methodology will have to be revamped for Cell
    chips, once the constituent technology required for digital consumer
    electronics development (OS, libraries and such) is available, it should
    become considerably simpler to actually develop the product. More and more
    functions can be used in multiple pieces of equipment, including H.264 and
    other Codec software and graphical user interfaces (GUI). Sony is already
    applying this development method in TVs mounting the Emotion Engine. By
    utilizing software libraries originally developed for the PlayStation 2, it
    was able to quickly develop the GUI used in the PSX, called the cross-media
    bar (XMB).

    Outside Sales

    In parallel with the adoption of Cell chips in their own products, it seems
    likely that the manufacturers will begin to push sales to other firms
    involved in consumer electronics and computers. The more products equipped
    with Cell chips, the easier it will be to achieve a distributed environment
    via networking, and that was one of the original concepts of the Cell
    development plan.

    The Sony Group plans to provide not only Cell, but also peripheral and
    graphics ICs equipped with all the needed input/output (I/O) interfaces. The
    strategy makes one think of an Intel for the digital consumer electronics
    world. The firm will probably also provide homegrown OS and software. As
    mentioned above, the development of Cell software will not be trivial, but
    for the consumer electronics manufacturers, releasing product software to
    the competition would be the kiss of death because, along with the software,
    hard-won expertise would also be transferred.

    In fact, Cell is provided with a framework to prevent such expertise from
    escaping. A function is implemented in hardware that can make it impossible
    for the dedicated SPE memory space to be addressed by the CPU core. This
    function could be used to prevent third parties from analyzing software
    libraries or other code in the SPEs.

    In addition to sales to the merchant market, it is also possible that the
    Cell system interface could be disclosed. If third-party developers provide
    the peripheral ICs for use with Cell, it would rapidly increase the range of
    possible Cell variations.

    To convince as many IC manufacturers as possible to make peripheral ICs for
    use with Cell, one possible strategy is to release the specs free of charge,
    as Intel did with its peripheral component interconnect (PCI) bus and
    accelerated graphics port (AGP) specs. It seems more likely that the
    information will only be released under a license agreement, however, Sony's
    Kutaragi suggested.

    by Rocky Eda and Tomonori Shindo
    a link to the past, May 2, 2005
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