If you look at the central processor in Microsoft's (MSFT) Xbox 360 you will see something that can trace its ancestry right back to the Intel 8086 of 1978.
Over its evolution this has forced endless fudges and compromises. An analogy might be trying to build a working supertanker on the plans of a model rowing boat. And the 360 itself owes its architecture to the IBM PC of 1981 and so carries with it the accommodations that this architecture imposes. These factors, ultimately, must impinge on the working of the console.
Compare that to Sony (SNE), who were able to design the processor and the console it is in with a clean sheet of paper. The Cell processor, designed jointly with IBM and Toshiba at a cost of $400 million is the state of the art in processor dessign. It is scalable, highly flexible and excellent at distributed processing.
So it is little surprise that the PS3 now holds the Guiness world record for the most powerful distributed computing network. Or that an astrophysicist has replaced a supercomputer with eight PS3s. This is one very special and very powerful machine and when game programmers eventually work out how to get the best from it we are going to see some spectacular results.
But there has been a price to pay. Whilst the 360 was cheap to develop and cheap to make, the PS3 has cost a fortune. Sony has absorbed some of this cost in losses and passed some of it on to end users in the form of higher prices, which has hit sales. Sony has bet its computer entertainment division and maybe the whole company on this device.
But if the bet pays off they will hit pay-dirt. Quite simply they will be able to make generation after generation of game consoles that are superior in every possible way. This will be fascinating to watch as the years unfold.
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