Many Processors in One
Dual-core processors and 64-bit CPUs are grabbing headlines, but make way for the multiprocessor chip. Designed by IBM, Sony, and Toshiba, the new Cell chip contains a main PowerPC-based core microprocessor and up to eight additional processors. The new CPU, which the companies claim can offer up to ten times the performance of Intel and AMD chips, has a pushpin-size 90-nanometer design. It uses 234 million transistors and can run at speeds of over 4 GHz."It could be the fastest mainstream processor available when they introduce it next year," says Microprocessor Report editor-in-chief Kevin Krewell. Sony is building the Cell chip into its next-generation PlayStation. IBM is hoping to see the Cell in its Linux servers. And Toshiba, with its big investment in HDTV and digital video recorders, is hoping to use the Cell processor in televisions and consumer-electronics products. Indeed, say analysts, the eight 128-bit processors, called synergistic processing elements (SPEs), make the Cell ideal for managing high-bandwidth video. "The SPE units can process things like MPEG-2 encoding and decoding, as well as HDTV and audio," explains Krewell. There's even speculation that Apple could port its OS to the Cell. "The only thing you probably won't see running on it," says Krewell, "is Windows."