The Cell project began with the formation of the STI (Sony Group, Toshiba and IBM) Cell Design Center in Austin, Texas in March of 2001. High level technical specifications were released in much anticipated papers delivered at San Francisco's International Solid State Circuit Conference (ISSCC) in February, 2005.
IBM, Sony Group and Toshiba said that opening up a wide set of detailed technical specifications to software developers, business partners, academic and research organizations, will establish a community of interest and innovation around Cell, allowing all interested parties to rapidly evaluate and utilize Cell technology.
Specifically, the companies will make available documents describing the following components of the Cell microprocessor:
- The Cell Broadband Engine Architecture ? defines a processor structure directed toward distributed processing and multimedia applications. The architecture contains a control processor based on the Power Architecture, augmented with multiple high- performance SIMD Synergistic Processor Units and a rich set of DMA commands for efficient communications among processing elements.
- The Synergistic Processor Unit Instruction Set Architecture (SPU ISA) ? discloses the high performance SIMD RISC processor designed to accelerate media and streaming applications for systems based upon the Cell Broadband Engine Architecture.
- Synergistic Processor Unit C/C++ Language Extensions, Application Binary Interface, and Assembly Language specifications ? which aid software developers in unleashing the full processing power of the SPUs.
"IBM and its partners are committed to providing the development and open source communities with comprehensive, early access to the Cell Broadband Engine architecture and to encouraging those exploring the infinite possibilities of Cell," said Jim Kahle, IBM Fellow. "We strongly support an environment that removes virtually all barriers to building innovative applications based on Cell."
"We believe that the Cell architecture disclosure will allow more people to freely access the core technologies," said Masakazu Suzuoki, deputy senior vice president, Semiconductor Development Division, SCEI. "Through this we aim to firmly support software development technology in the mid to long term, particularly for middleware, and to accelerate the dissemination of Cell to stimulate the industry as a whole."
The PlayStation 3 is expected to launch in the first half of next year and be the first Cell-based product on the market. Toshiba has said it's looking at using the Cell in high-definition TVs, and Mercury Computer Systems has a deal with IBM that could see the Cell employed in computer systems.
Now the partners are looking to push beyond these limited applications and grow the market for the chip, which the four companies have spent several billion dollars developing, including manufacturing technologies.
The Cell is widely seen as one of the most powerful processors yet developed. It has been tuned for multimedia applications that require fast processing and involve large amounts of data.
The chip that will sit in the PlayStation 3 will contain one 64-bit Power PC core and eight additional multimedia processing cores. The cores can all support multiple operating systems and programming models through the use of virtualization technologies. The Cell chip will use Rambus's XDR (extreme data rate) memory interface technology running at 3.2GHz, and will be able to handle ten instruction threads at a given time.
Pic shows the cell chip and what size when held by your hand.