The Cell processor that will power the next version of the PlayStation game console will also be adaptable for advanced scientific research, but you won't have to be a rocket scientist to program it.
That is the pledge of one of the chief architects of the Cell, jointly developed by IBM, Sony, and Toshiba, who together on Friday sought to allay fears that the chip would create huge programming challenges for game developers just starting to learn their ways around the complex circuitry that powers the current PlayStation 2.
"We're very much aware of the need to balance between innovation in architecture and the ability to leverage that innovation," H. Peter Hofstee, a researcher in IBM's Systems and Technology division, said during a break at an IBM press event in San Francisco today. "The learning curve for this platform should be significantly better than previous ones."
The three companies announced their Cell plans three years ago, describing an advanced processor tailored for demanding multimedia tasks. The companies said earlier this week that they plan to begin test production of Cell chips early next year, with the first Cell-based products--workstation PCs for computer graphics production--set to arrive late in the year.
Sony and Toshiba both plan to start selling high-definition TV sets powered by the chip in 2006, which is also when Sony is expected to introduce the Cell-powered PlayStation 3.
Hofstee said the Cell will benefit game developers not only by giving them a stable and easily approachable foundation for games to run on, but also by powering the workstations they use to produce games. The upshot is that developers should be spending a lot less time waiting for their equipment to render the animations they create.
"We think it's going to be a much more seamless and speedy process for developers using these workstations," he said.
Besides workstations, game machines, and TV sets, the Cell is also likely to power certain types of scientific supercomputers, streaming media servers, and image analysis systems, all of which have continually expanding needs for processing power. Hofstee said the Cell taps into an emerging "convergence between what we think of as supercomputing and what we use in the entertainment space."
Beyond that, the sky's the limit, according to Hofstee, who said the Cell development team set out to create a flexible design that would dramatically increase processing power while skirting growing chipmaker concerns about power consumption.
"We've created something that is very flexible," he said. "Having a more generic architecture will allow people to do new things."