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!"
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.