Toshiba chief sells ‘Cell’ CPU

Details of IBM/Sony/Tosh 'supercomputer-on-a-chip' emerge

The head of Toshiba's semiconductor operation, Yasuo Morimoto, has revealed a few further details of Cell - the multiprocessing-oriented CPU architecture for the broadband era currently being developed by Toshiba, Sony and IBM.

The three partners announced the chip earlier this month. They committed themselves to spending $400 million over the next five years developing the chip, described by Sony's Ken Kutaragi, the creator of the PlayStation, this way: "With built-in broadband connectivity, microprocessors that currently exist as individual islands will be more closely linked, making a network of systems act more as one, unified 'supersystem'. Just as biological cells in the body unite to form complete physical systems, Cell-based electronic products of all types will form the building blocks of larger systems."

Hard technical specs. remain few and far between, but Morimoto, speaking in an interview with the Nikkei newswire, does give a more detailed - albeit in a rather vague fashion - picture of the processor than the one presented at its launch.

As Morimoto describes it, Cell is a customisable architecture capable of being modified according to the needs of specific applications. Essentially, the CPU has a modular design - Morimoto calls it a "building block structure" - allowing chip makers to strip out features not necessary to the application they're working on. If they switch in all of all the chip's capacity, they'll be able to wring more than one teraflop of performance out of it, he says.

Morimoto also talks of the chip's "signal processing portion". Since this portion is said to be scalable, we reckon that's probably some kind of programmable vector processing engine.

The one consistent component of Cell's modular design is the I/O section, which will be standard across all Cell derivatives, Morimoto says, whether they're targeted as cellphones or large-scale servers, which itself gives an idea of the range of applications the three partners see the broadband-oriented CPU being implemented for.

Physically, Cell CPUs will have "packages with many pins and large chip sizes", according to Morimoto, but presumably that refers to the full-feature set version, since that's clearly not the description of a mobile-oriented processor.

"As the Cell chip size will be fairly large, the Cell chips are most suitable for being manufactured at the 300mm wafer facilities," he added.

Morimoto is tight-lipped on the subject of operating systems, saying only that it "will be an operating system that enables the Cells being connected to each other to operate in parallel". It also has to be capable of being scaled from very small mobile devices to high-end servers, if we take his comment about the applicability of the chip's I/O infrastructure at face value.

IBM, Sony and Toshiba are also developing peripheral chips, and there's even the tantalising hint that the three are developing a new memory system for the CPU, though it may simply be the interviewer reading too much into Morimoto's comments. From the sounds of it, we'd expect the CPU to use a NUMA-style memory infrastructure, providing each chip with access not only to its own memory space but to the RAM banks of others, possibly even down to the L2 cache level.

Interestingly, unlike Sony, Toshiba hasn't licensed IBM's copper, low-K dielectric and silicon-on-insulator manufacturing processes. It's going to use those technologies to build Cell, but it's developing them itself, says Morimoto. "It is not necessary to have the same process, but it's an essential condition for us to standardise the basic electric characteristics," he said.

The three companies have already said Cell will be fabbed at 0.1 micron. ®

Related Link

Nikkei's interview with Yasuo Morimoto

Related Story

Sony, IBM, Toshiba team on broadband supercomputing CPU

Other stories you might like

  • Uncle Sam to clip wings of Pegasus-like spyware – sorry, 'intrusion software' – with proposed export controls

    Surveillance tech faces trade limits as America syncs policy with treaty obligations

    More than six years after proposing export restrictions on "intrusion software," the US Commerce Department's Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) has formulated a rule that it believes balances the latitude required to investigate cyber threats with the need to limit dangerous code.

    The BIS on Wednesday announced an interim final rule that defines when an export license will be required to distribute what is basically commercial spyware, in order to align US policy with the 1996 Wassenaar Arrangement, an international arms control regime.

    The rule [PDF] – which spans 65 pages – aims to prevent the distribution of surveillance tools, like NSO Group's Pegasus, to countries subject to arms controls, like China and Russia, while allowing legitimate security research and transactions to continue. Made available for public comment over the next 45 days, the rule is scheduled to be finalized in 90 days.

    Continue reading
  • Global IT spending to hit $4.5 trillion in 2022, says Gartner

    The future's bright, and expensive

    Corporate technology soothsayer Gartner is forecasting worldwide IT spending will hit $4.5tr in 2022, up 5.5 per cent from 2021.

    The strongest growth is set to come from enterprise software, which the analyst firm expects to increase by 11.5 per cent in 2022 to reach a global spending level of £670bn. Growth has fallen slightly, though. In 2021 it was 13.6 per cent for this market segment. The increase was driven by infrastructure software spending, which outpaced application software spending.

    The largest chunk of IT spending is set to remain communication services, which will reach £1.48tr next year, after modest growth of 2.1 per cent. The next largest category is IT services, which is set to grow by 8.9 per cent to reach $1.29tr over the next year, according to the analysts.

    Continue reading
  • Memory maker Micron moots $150bn mega manufacturing moneybag

    AI and 5G to fuel demand for new plants and R&D

    Chip giant Micron has announced a $150bn global investment plan designed to support manufacturing and research over the next decade.

    The memory maker said it would include expansion of its fabrication facilities to help meet demand.

    As well as chip shortages due to COVID-19 disruption, the $21bn-revenue company said it wanted to take advantage of the fact memory and storage accounts for around 30 per cent of the global semiconductor industry today.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021