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Monday, March 13, 2006
IBM Showcases Cell Processors in Action at CeBIT

IBM demonstrated the Cell blade server running visualization software to display real-time, 3D video footage of a human beating heart at CeBIT.

The model would allow a researcher to rotate the image of the heart and observe it from any angle, or filter out elements such as blood or certain tissue to give a transparent view into the center of the heart.

According to IBM's representative, the demonstration requires a huge amount of data processing, but a blade server using the nine-core Cell chip is well equipped to handle such a workload. Un general, conventional computers find it very hard to cope with tasks such as transparency.

The model was created using PV-4D, a software tool for visualizing large quantities of data resulting from scientific computation or image processing. Researchers at Germany's Fraunhofer Institute originally developed PV-4D to run on clusters of commodity PCs, and recently ported it to the Cell processor architecture.

The Cell chip was designed by IBM, Sony and Toshiba, and will also power Sony's PlayStation 3 game console. It contains a PowerPC 970 processing core and eight specialized vector processors (or SPEs, synergistic processor elements), which handle graphics or vector calculations. The SPEs each have 256K-bytes of level-one cache memory for code and data, and communicate with main memory at up to 25G bytes per second. They can also communicate with the PowerPC core or with one another through a 200G-byte-per-second bus.

A single SPE is more powerful than the Power processor for 32-bit integer and floating-point calculation, according to IBM.

Each IBM Cell blade contains two Cell chips, with 1GB of DRAM shared between them.

Each Cell blade is twice the thickness of existing IBM blades so only seven will fit in a single blade chassis, rather than the 14 typical dual-processor non-Cell blades that can currently be fitted. The chassis displayed at the CeBit show, taking place here this week, contained six Cell blades.

IBM is planning to launch the Cell blades commercially in the third quarter. Pricing isn't yet available.

The Cell chips in the system on display at CeBit were running at 2.4GHz. According to IBM, the commercial unit would run at between 2.4GHz and 4GHz. The company also revealed plans to use a manufacturing process lower than the currenlty used (90-nanometer) for the chip, in order to increase its performance.

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