IBM’s ‘Cell’ Chips To Provide All-Purpose Power

IBM plans to reveal details of its long-awaited “Cell” microprocessors today at the company’s Power.org Community Conference in Barcelona, Spain. Big Blue, Sony and Toshiba announced a US$400 million partnership four months ago to collaborate on an architecture for what is termed a system-on-a-chip (SoC) design that will be used to develop everything from handheld devices to mainframe computers.

IBM said chips based on the architecture will be able to use ultra high-speed broadband connectivity to interoperate with one another as one complete system, similar to the way neural cells interoperate over the brain’s network.

IBM hopes open-source developers will create computing designs for the chip. The Cell chips are scheduled to be released next year.

Aggressive Road Map

Technology Business Research analyst Tim Deal told TechNewsWorld that it is important for IBM, Toshiba and Sony to demonstrate that the companies have an aggressive roadmap that leverages emerging proprietary technology.

“The consumer electronics market is so competitive. Points of differentiation are so limited in some cases,” Deal said. “The development of a new microprocessors that are dedicated to home convergence and consumer electronic products is going to present an important point of differentiation in the competitive marketplace.”

Indeed, IBM expects Cell to define an entirely new way of operating. Big Blue said Cell’s underlying architecture will be suited to many different purposes, helping to open up a whole new set of applications.

For example, Sony plans to deploy the Cell in its coming PlayStation 3 game consoles. But IBM said the technology is also a viable solution for medical imaging machines and military hardware.

Innovation Reputation

The new microchips employ the advanced research technologies and chip-making techniques, including copper wires, silicon-on-insulator (SOI) transistors and low-K dielectric insulation, with features smaller than 0.10 microns — 1,000 times thinner than a human hair.

IBM said the result will be consumer devices that are more powerful than its Deep Blue supercomputer, operate at low power and access the broadband Internet at ultra high speeds. Cell will be designed to deliver “teraflops” of processing power.

In the wake of Apple’s decision to pull away from IBM’s PowerPC processor analysts said it’s important for Big Blue to demonstrate that it has a plan for technological innovation moving forward.

“I fear that the Apple announcement will send a message out that IBM’s ability to innovate is limited,” Deal said. “The Cell processor, depending upon how the market responds to its implementations, will help offset perceptions that IBM has difficulty in its processor research and development.”

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