Taking their cue from the way biological cells cooperate with each other to form a bodily structure, IBM, Sony Computer Entertainment and Toshiba are developing a chip architecture that will let individual processors interconnect and create a larger system.
If everything works as planned, the new architecture?dubbed Cell?will lead to consumer devices that are more powerful than IBM’s Deep Blue chess-playing supercomputer, operate at relatively low power levels and provide built-in broadband Internet connectivity.
The companies hope to develop Cell devices capable of multiple teraflops (trillions of operations per second) of processing power, says Lisa Su, broadband business line manager for IBM’s microelectronics division in East Fishkill, N.Y. Although the Cell architecture will be built from scratch, Su says, IBM will contribute its advanced semiconductor technology, including its PowerPC knowledge, to the design. Cell devices will incorporate a variety of recent chip design breakthroughs, including copper wiring, silicon-on-insulator transistors and low-K dielectric insulation. At the project’s peak, IBM expects to dedicate more than 300 chip architects and designers to Cell’s development.
The technology is slated to find a home in a variety of products, including PCs, wireless devices, game consoles, Internet appliances, gateways, switches and routers. “Cell-based products of all types will form the building blocks of larger systems,” says Su. “The internal broadband connectivity will allow the processors to be closely linked, creating a network of systems that act as a single, unified supersystem.”
The trio’s ultimate goal is to define the standard for broadband Internet access, says Andrew Allison, an independent computer industry analyst in Carmel, Calif. “And not just for consumer products,” he adds. Allison believes that Cell processors could eventually wind up in an array of office products.