Entertainment driving new technology development?

I know this is relatively old news (Dec 2002/Jan2003), but the magnitude of the hardware development effort Sony, IBM and Toshiba are working on to produce the next generation Playstation 3 really is amazing. According to this article in the Register back in 2001, the three companies were planning to spend $400million over 5 years to develop the new CPU.

Sony is working closely with IBM in the development of the new ‘Cell’ CPU – this is essentially multiple processor cores on one piece of silicon. Its rumoured that the PS3 will have multiple numbers of these processors inside working in parallel, each operating at an estimated 100 times the speed of current Intel P4 2.4GHz CPUs, crunching over 1 trillion floating point operations/sec. Thats quite some meaty hardware for a game platform.

In addition to that, Rambus are working with Sony to develop a new high speed memory architecture, that will be needed to keep up with this level of CPU horsepower. Toshiba will be manufacturing the new memory chips.

Maybe not directly related to the PS3 development but may used with the PS3, IBM also have their Grid project under way for creating large interconnected networks of heterogeneous computers and hardware working as a whole (rather than a cluster which is usually hardware all of the same type). A company called Butterfly is already using this technology to host computing power for massively multiplayer gaming using PS2 consoles.

So just where is all this going? The PS3 expected to reach shelves sometime late 2004 or early 2005 is going to be a supercomputer compared to current desktop PC standards, its hard to even imagine what the machine will be capable of.

But even more interesting is the fact that tomorrows electronic entertainment is pushing the boundaries of hardware development into new areas that seem far in excess of any computing power that any business could need.

I read somewhere that because the average business PC user will probably not notice any difference between a CPU running at 2GHz to one running at 3GHz (and 1GHz is probably more than sufficient for most users), it’s going to take a huge jump to probably 10GHz before we really start to notice any massive improvement. So, assuming that most business users are happy with CPUs of around 1GHz, if Cell CPU start to find their way in Sony’s Vario line (remember operating at around 100 times the speed of a 2.4GHz P4), just what exactly is this going to mean? Its hard to image what changes this sort of power could bring along, but the next 5 years could bring some interesting changes in the computing world. The SciFi world of movies with instant access to any information on any device, in any format (full color hires video and sound), is practically here already, so what can be coming next…?

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