Like some sort of silicon Superman, IBM’s Cell processor, originally designed (in Austin!) for the Sony Playstation 3, is taking on even more duties. After its starring role in the PS3, it co-starred with some AMD x86 chips in RoadRunner, the fastest supercomputer ever built. Meanwhile, engineers started putting it in blade servers for high-performance computing. Now IBM says it will return to its entertainment roots in a Toshiba television due out next year, making it official: Big Blue’s big bet on a new chip architecture is paying off.
When IBM teamed up with Sony and Toshiba in 2000 to build this nine-core semiconductor, the goal was to make a fast chip that took advantage of parallel processing to display awesome graphics. In the middle of 2005, when IBM started pushing the Cell processor for data center applications, too, analysts scoffed, saying there were few programs out there to take advantage of the multicore architecture. Yet today, multicore chips are in everything from servers and desktops to routers, and firms from Intel to Microsoft are addressing the programming problems.
The Cell digital television will combine advanced graphics processing to enable faster channel switching, as well as the ability to watch multiple video streams stored in a hard drive. (The demo unit streamed 48 pictures from a variety of devices stored in the hard drive.) But what would be even more fun is Internet connectivity for this TV. Instead of 48 screens of stored content, some of it could be interactive. All of my friends who watch TV while checking out photos, answering emails and IMing would love it. I, on the other hand, wouldn’t know where to look.