More Than Fun And Games For ‘Cell’ Chip

IBM wasn’t kidding. The Cell chip really will be used in products other than gaming consoles.

Mercury Computer Systems has created the Dual Cell-based Blade, a computer server capable of processing at 400 gigaflops thanks to two IBM Cell BE (Broadband Engine) processors. The Cell is a single-chip multiprocessor with nine processors operating on shared memory.

The Dual Cell-based Blade is expected to greatly boost the performance in products that rely on radar, sonar, MRI and digital X-rays for customers in aerospace, defense, seismic and medical fields.

For example, military reconnaissance and surveillance groups might use the new blade to process radar, sonar, and signals. Customers might also use the blade to run medical diagnostic imaging devices including MRI, PET, and digital X-rays.

The Dual Cell-Based Blade will be available in the IBM BladeCenter chassis and scales to seven blades in a 7U configuration, offering up to 2.8 teraflops of processing performance.

The blade will run on the Linux operating system and Mercury will include Eclipse-based software to integrate the compilers, debuggers, math libraries, utilities and middleware.

Chelmsford, Mass.’s Mercury said orders for the hardware, the first Cell-based product to market outside the gaming space, are expected in the first half of 2006.

The blade system is the fruit of a June 2005 agreement, in which Mercury partnered with IBM Engineering & Technology Services to integrate Cell technology into products designed to address applications that require a lot of number crunching to run to their potential.

The Cell processor was developed by IBM, Toshiba and Sony. It includes eight processing elements with a Power architecture-based core to pave the way for distributed processing and applications that use a lot of media.

To this point, Cell chips have been associated with gaming consoles, based on an earlier announcement to put Cell in PlayStation 3 when it appears in 2006.

“Although the Cell Broadband Engine is initially intended for application in game consoles and media-rich consumer-electronics devices, the architecture and the Cell Broadband Engine implementation have been designed to overcome some of the fundamental limitations to processor performance,” said H. Peter Hofstee, IBM Research, in a paper on the Cell chip.

“A much broader use of the architecture is envisioned.”

In the future, Cell is expected to power an array of hardware machines, including digital TVs, mobile devices and supercomputers.

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