Saturday, February 16, 2008

IBM Touts New-Generation Cell Processors

IBM, a leading IT company and also a leading producer of chips, said at the International Solid-State Circuits Conference (ISSCC) that its Cell processor, which was jointly developed with Sony and Toshiba, produced using 45nm process technology will not only have lower power consumption, but will be able to work on much higher frequencies. Besides, more powerful Cell chips with more cores are possible.

According to slides that IBM demonstrated at ISSCC, power consumption of Cell chip operating at 4GHz produced using 45nm fabrication technology is 42% below the same chip made using 65nm process tech. Moreover, the 45nm chip consumes just about one third of the energy devoured by Cell 4GHz produced using 90nm fabrication process, reports PC Watch web-site.

Perhaps, more notably, but Cell processor made at 45nm will be able to operate at 6GHz – 7GHz clock-speed, which will boost performance considerably compared to today’s available frequencies.

The Cell microprocessor incorporates one dual-threaded PowerPC core and eight so-called synergistic processing engines (SPEs) intended for floating-point calculations, the most demanding tasks in entertainment, workstation and server systems. The PowerPC core is projected to have 32KB L1 cache and 512KB L2 cache, while each of the SPEs will have 256KB of cache. The Cell has built-in Rambus XDR memory interface, capable of data rates from 3.20GHz to 8.0GHz. The chip also uses FlexIO processor buses that are capable of running at up to 6.40GHz.

Earlier IBM said that with 45nm process technology it will be possible to create a more powerful Cell processor with two Power processor elements along with thirty two synergetic processor elements.

Besides ability to create a microprocessor with breakthrough performance, IBM and its partner Toshiba are now able to create much less expensive Cell processors using 45nm fabrication process. Sony Computer Entertainment’s PlayStation 3 will be the first device to benefit from more affordable Cell processor. But if 45nm Cell chips are truly affordable, then other companies may also decide to use Cell chips inside their consumer electronics or computing devices.

Unfortunately, IBM did not provide any information regarding yields of Cell processors produced using 45nm technology. Earlier IBM’s vice president of semiconductor and technology services said during an interview that with big chips like the Cell processor, jointly developed by IBM, Sony and Toshiba, 10% – 20% yields are normal and the chipmakers should be lucky enough to get such output of fully functional chips. While the chip at 45nm should be much smaller compared to 90nm or 65nm versions and its yields are by definition higher, it would still be interesting to see the actual information about the percentage of working chips out of all produced.

Cell processors made using 45nm process technology will be commercially available in future; no actual timeframes were disclosed.

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