Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The Cell Processor

Excellent article in Wiki on the next generation of computer processors. It uses an interesting, multi-node design quite unlike the current generation of RISC processors. It's better at single precision calculation than double (where it takes an order of magnitude hit in performace), so dont expect to see it on your desktop any time soon, but in the world of computational finance, this technology could make huge strides.

Update: In a conversation with a non-technical MSFT person on why this is Bad News for Microsoft.
Mark: "It's like this, Microsoft makes ovens. Ovens are general purpose heating units used for a wide variety of tasks and you dont really know in advance what you're going to ask the oven to do day-to-day. You could heat water, you could broil a roast, you could bake cookies, you could melt pennies on the burners when your Mom isn't home, just about anything."
Dennis: "Okay. Wait... you did what with pennies..."
Mark:"But, you don't make toast with your oven. You could, but you dont"
Dennis: "No, of course not"
Mark:"But you could!"
Dennis: "Yes, but..."
Mark"But you us a toaster!"
Dennis:"Of course"
Mark: "A toaster is a specific purpose machine for making toast and toast-related products. You can't make roasts or cookies or melt anything larger than birthday candles in them."
Dennis, "Why would you put birthday candles in a toaster?"
Mark:"It was an experiement. Thats not important right now. Microsoft makes ovens, but IBM in exploring the Cell design powered by one-off specific implimentations of Linux are making toasters. and microwave ovens."
Dennis:"becuase they are good at a specific function rather than a general one"
Dennis: "Oh! I get it! Oh! Oh! This is not good."
Mark: "No, not for Microsoft in Financial Services, no"
Dennis: "Okay, I get it. "

Cell is a microprocessor architecture jointly developed by a Sony, Toshiba, and IBM alliance known as STI over a four year period beginning March 2001 on a design budget informally reported by IBM as being in the range of $400 million. Cell is a shorthand for Cell Broadband Engine Architecture, commonly abbreviated CBEA in full or Cell BE in part. Cell combines a general purpose POWER-architecture core of modest performance with streamlined coprocessing elements which greatly accelerate multimedia and vector processing applications, as well as many other forms of dedicated computation.
The major commercial application of Cell is in Sony's upcoming
PlayStation 3 game console which is slated to launch in November 2006. It will also become available in a blade configuration from Mercury Computer Systems. Toshiba has announced plans to incorporate Cell in high definition television sets. Exotic features such as the XDR memory subsystem and coherent EIB interconnect appear to position Cell for future applications in the supercomputing space to exploit the Cell processor's prowess in floating point kernels.
The Cell architecture breaks ground in combining a light-weight general-purpose
processor with multiple GPU-like coprocessors into a coordinated whole, a feat which involves a novel memory coherence architecture for which IBM received many patents. The resulting architecture emphasizes efficiency/watt and prioritizes bandwidth over latency, and peak computational throughput over simplicity of program code. For these reasons, Cell is widely regarded as a challenging environment for software development. IBM provides a comprehensive Linux-based Cell development platform to assist developers in confronting these challenges. Software adoption remains a key issue in whether Cell ultimately delivers on its performance potential.


Brian Dunbar said...

I don't think I'm alone when I wonder why you would melt candles in a toaster.

I mean, your toaster, your candles, your business. And I'm sure the reason is hopelessly mundane. Still.

I wonder if they're thinking about hardening that new processor against radiation. Probably not, which from my POV is a damn shame. Or not - the application I have in mind is a one use shot that only has to work for a week or so ...

TJIC said...

I don't think I'm alone when I wonder why you would melt candles in a toaster.

The propane torch was out of fuel?

Mark Horvath said...

Actually, I was using the toaster because I was 4 and had already been punished for playing with matches. The way I figured it though, the toaster was acceptable and a source of much needed fire for the candles on my bear's birthday cake.

Later, when this proved also to unacceptable to my parents, I figured the cigarette lighter in the car would also work. I out clevered myself there though and tried to light a sparkler in the front seat of my fathers 65 Thunderbird. I remember thinking it would be fun to light the sparkler, that the car lighter would work (having been chased off matches and the toaster), I remember pushing the lighter in, watching it heat, touching it when it popped out with the heating element a wonderful cherry-red, touching the sparkler to the element, waiting, waiting, waiting and being totally and completely surprised by the unexpected thing which happened next.
The sparkler lit.
I have no idea why this surprised me since it was the goal of the experiment, but I was so shocked when the front seat of the car being filled with white-hot thermite sparks I screamed and .... dropped the sparkler onto the floor of the car! It immediately went under the passengers seat, hissing and burning the whole time. I was about 4 or 5 and had seen enough tv to know what was going to happen next. The car was going to explode. I ran out of the car, locked the doors and shut them (thinking maybe that the explosion couldn’t get out of a locked car??? I don’t’ remember what I was thinking other than “aahaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!”) and ran behind a nearby tree with my fingers in my ears waiting for the car to explode and trying to figure out what I would tell my father. Fortunately the T-Bird was made of sterner stuff and failed to explode. Days went by while I worried they would figure out what I did (and while I waited for the car to explode ‘cause that sparkler didn’t go immediately and maybe there was a similar delayed reaction with the car). Eventually I got back into the car and found the sparkler melted into the (plastic-based) fabric under the front seat. I fished it out and threw it away and never, ever touched the cigarette lighter again.

Because that was the week my father, the welder, brought home his oxy-acetylene torch…

Hmmmm... a week's hard radiation. I'm assuming you mean gamma not neutron. Color me curious.

Anonymous said...

But you still never learned your lesson .... hence the HUGE aluminum foil burn in your carpet on Allen Street .... and the even LARGER smoke cloud billowing from the apartment window.......
But I digress.