Playstation 3 chip coming in a network near you?

It did not grab the headlines - and after all, I'm sure IBM did not want it to; but pay attention to that new breed of processors which might be much more than a pair of chips. IBM and Mercury Computer Systems (MCS) have begun selling Cell based blade servers late last January.

The Cell processor is at the heart of the next Playstation 3 and for such a consumer-geared component to feature in blade servers - destined at Medical imaging, aerospace, seismic processing and other non-trivial applications - is a tribute to its exceptional standing.

Cell is made up of nine cores and can deliver more firepower than anything out there. MCS has come forward with the Cell BE-based blade server which apparently delivers the same performance than 20 PowerPC and 45 Pentium 4 processors, while taking the place of a toaster and consuming less than 400w.

Now we have rack servers in the office and a toaster in our kitchen as well and the comparison is ... interesting at least. Mind you, the Cell processor represents a whole new generation of processors that will only improve and IBM has also packed two of them in a Blade server.

No one remembers the earlier Pentium 4, those running at 1.3 GHz and 1.4Ghz now. The next generation Cell will probably be even more powerful and they are currently in gestation, shrinking from 90nm to 32nm level, half what Intel and AMD are planning for this year. Reducing manufacturing process size also means getting more chip per silicon area thereby reducing the price.

As for your network, this means that soon optimized Cell software will appear - as hacks start gets their hands on Playstations and make their way to its heart. Hopefully someone will come forth with a WINE-line x86 emulator - Yellow dog is currently the only (Linux-based) operating system supporting Cell - and allow everyone to run legacy applications on it.

The Cell won't be cheap - as expensive as a high end x86 processor like the Pentium M 755 - but given the right support, it might be the greatest breakthrough in processing for a decade.