IBM to move Cell processor to 45nm

Sony’s PlayStation 3 game console may play host to a smaller and leaner version of its trademark processor before long. As Ars Technica relates, IBM has revealed at the ongoing International Solid State Circuits Conference that it is working on a version of the Cell Broadband Engine CPU based on its 45nm high-k process technology.

Compared to the Cell chip that sits in today’s PS3s, which is manufactured using IBM’s 65nm silicon-on-insulator process, IBM says the 45nm Cell will cut power draw by 40%. As a result, Sony should be able to reduce the amount of cooling capacity in the PS3, which could translate into a quieter console. The new Cell chip should cost less to produce, as well, since the shrink will reduce its die area by 34%. What you won’t find on the list of new features for the 45nm Cell is a clock frequency increase, since IBM felt it was vital to keep the Cell chip operating identically to its predecessor in order to avoid any compatibility snags on the PS3.

All in all, the new Cell should help Sony make a cheaper-to-produce, cooler-running, and possibly quieter console. As Ars points out, however, the Japanese consumer electronics titan giant may not pass these savings onto the consumer immediately. As console makers traditionally do, Sony is selling the PS3 at a loss, so it’s probably in no hurry to introduce price cuts.

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    • AMDisDEC
    • 12 years ago

    Sony paid well for the Cell processor (100s of millions) while AMD just pays a fraction (10s of millions) of that for sharing the process.
    IBM likely make even more money from Sony for various systems services.

    It makes perfect sense that IBM’s focus be on it’s number 1 partner, Sony.
    With AMD’s current cash crunch, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if IBM currently has AMD on a credit hold.

    I hope IBM/Sony add more flexibility to the SPEs and more SRAM with the extra space. I’d like to see Toshiba bring that hybrid laptop to market. I like the idea of using the Cell to convert standard videos to HD in less than 2 hours.

      • Usacomp2k3
      • 12 years ago

      What good does it do to upconvert a movie? Surely you meant the other way around?

    • kilkennycat
    • 12 years ago

    I didn’t say anything about fabbing by IBM at all in my original posting.

    IBM is reputedly developing the 45nm process that AMD is reputedly due to use in the production of shrunk Barcelona/Phenom. The exact state of maturity of that process and its readiness for handover to AMD for production volumes is shrouded in secrecy. So I am very surprised by IBM’s focus on the PS3 cell in their ISSCC 45nm presentation when AMD is hanging there with their tongue out waiting for the process that might save their business. Maybe production of the PS3 cell in volume is the assurance that AMD needs before attempting to use the 45nm process itself.

    It is now the 2-year anniversary of Intel putting fully-functional ram on their 45nm high-k process and just at the 1-year anniversary of Intel publicly demonstrating fully functional Core2 processors running on their new process. Where is the demo of fully-functional Alpha-phase Barcelona/Phenom on the IBM/AMD 45nm process or the demo of fully-functional production versions of the 45nm PS3 cell ? Count at least a year from any such demo to production volumes in 45nm at AMD. AMD/ATi seems all set to have a very rough year indeed squeezed between the shoulders of the two gorillas Intel and nVidia.

      • green
      • 12 years ago

      that’s simple enough

      ibm also sells Cell blades. so their interest in getting the chips shrunk and using less power takes precedence over amd wanting to release lower power competing chips in ibm’s server space. plus sony helped pony up a chunk of the cost of cbe and would really, really, really, really, really, like it if they could save some money on it.

      plus i’m not sure how much of a ‘partner’ amd is on the whole process shrink research stuff. it’s not like amd is throwing the same amount of money at the problem as ibm. /[

      • UberGerbil
      • 12 years ago

      Just because /[

      • Flying Fox
      • 12 years ago

      Making chips even on the same process+equipment is not a simply copy and paste. The designs vary, number of metal layers is different. The process technology is shared, so may be the wafers are composed of the same impurity doping, the photolithic plates are the same and such. However, the circuit mask is different, and there are often variances. These are CPUs which have a lot of tweaks per chip design in how the circuits are designed, simulated, etched onto the silicon, and packaged. Compared to GPUs which are mostly done via automation and copy+paste circuit libraries. It’s not as easy as “handing over” a process and new chips magically appear.

    • kilkennycat
    • 12 years ago

    Hmm… Why does Cell get top priority when there is another family of devices needing critical process help?

    I thought that IBM was AMD’s process-technology partner. The only advance that might save Barcelona/Phenom is a move to 45nm. No mention of any firm date for that migration. It is not even clear whether IBM’s 45nm process is currently characterized well enough for volume production or the modeling good enough to deal with complex logic. The exact date for the PS3 Cell migration to 45nm is not stated.

    With Intel’s 45nm Penryn server processors already available and the desktop and mobile processors about to be released in huge volume, Barcelona/Phenom’s days are numbered. With the shrink to 45nm, Intel should be able to readily crank down all prices at will, while beating AMD on every performance front.

      • leor
      • 12 years ago

      IBM isn’t fabbing most of AMD’s CPUs.

        • BobbinThreadbare
        • 12 years ago

        Not to mention even if IBM did manufacture AMD chips, they don’t design them.

      • moritzgedig
      • 12 years ago

      AMD’s 45nm is not IBM’s 45nm
      AMD doesn’t do High-k yet. They share only the SOI and immersionlithografie part.
      IBM isn’t producing AMD parts, but it does so for Sony.

    • ssidbroadcast
    • 12 years ago

    Anyone got the transistor count of the Cell processor of the top of their head?

      • UberGerbil
      • 12 years ago

      The original 90nm version was ~230 million transistors and die size of 220mm. I don’t recall if the transistor count changed much when it was shrunk to 65nm (I don’t think so).

        • ssidbroadcast
        • 12 years ago

        That’s pretty good. How does that compare to 65nm x86-based processors?

          • Arnidor
          • 12 years ago

          Here are a few numbers from perusing the web. The best comparison comes from the Prescott 2M which was shrunk from 90nm to the 65nm Cedar Mill with no improvements. There was a 40% size decrease.

          Prescott 2M: 135 mm^2
          Cedar Mill: 81 mm^2

          For reference:
          Prescott 2M/Cedar Mill was ~170 million transistors
          Conroe C2D is ~291 million transistors 142 mm^2

          So some really rough math shows the Cell went from 220 mm^2 to 132 mm^2 on the 90nm to 65nm shrink, and I read they are expecting another 40% size decrease the 45nm Cell could be around ~79 mm^2. Which is quite small.

    • etilena
    • 12 years ago

    I’d like a slimmer PS3 like the later edition PS2s.

      • ReAp3r-G
      • 12 years ago

      my guess is that’s why they’re stepping down the size, other than the obvious heat issues and cheaper to build issues…my first thoughts went that direction…less heat allows for smaller chassis and hopefully a fan with it…coz the slim PS2 was without one 🙁

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