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IBM Entertainment Games Hardware

IBM Adds Videogame Console Chips to Mainframes 103

Posted by Zonk
from the this-story-has-about-everything-i-love-in-it dept.
GoIBMPS3 writes "Soon the powerful 'Cell' microprocessor that fuels Sony's PlayStation 3 console will be available in IBM mainframe computers. The intent is to allow high-performance machines to run complex online games and virtual worlds. 'The integration initially will be accomplished by networking the mainframe with IBM's Cell blades, but eventually the Cells will be plugged more directly into the mainframes via PCI adapter cards, IBM said. It's the latest twist in IBM's years-long effort to keep mainframes not only relevant but also cutting-edge. IBM is touting the partnership as an example of hybrid computing--a trend sweeping the high-performance computing industry as companies augment general-purpose servers with special-purpose chips that to accelerate particular tasks.'"
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IBM Adds Videogame Console Chips to Mainframes

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  • Re:PCI? (Score:4, Informative)

    by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Thursday April 26, 2007 @02:03PM (#18888087) Homepage Journal
    PCI is doubtless the cheapest option available. Many systems have multiple PCI buses, for example I used to have a system with a SiS chipset whose slots were split between two PCI buses, and it had an AGP8x and at least one additional internal PCI bus; it had both 32 and 64 bit PCI devices onboard (a RAID controller was on a 64 bit, 33MHz bus internally.) If the IBM mainframes that use PCI buses have enough of them, then it might be worth it. They might be envisioning this on a "mainframe" cluster, where you could distribute them throughout the network. Or of course, the person who wrote the article could simply be ignorant enough to not differentiate between multiple flavors of PCI. If we look at some other Stephen Shankland articles on C|Net [com.com] we find that they tend to be very simple and formulaic, without any technical detail whatsoever. Just putting those letters "PCI" into the article must have just about killed him. Normally if you see a "word" in an article by him that isn't plain English, it's the name of some company.
  • by _xeno_ (155264) on Thursday April 26, 2007 @02:13PM (#18888249) Homepage Journal

    The Cell has never been intended solely to be a "game chip." It was always intended to be useful in large supercomputer type environments.

    The Folding At Home client is an example of a large clustered-based application that uses the Cell as a math processor, as is the recent "real-time raytracing" demo. Both are applications of the Cell in a "mainframe" type environment.

    So it's not surprising that IBM would be releasing Cell-based machines - that's been the plan all along. It was never intended just to be used in the PS3.

  • by Animats (122034) on Thursday April 26, 2007 @02:27PM (#18888465) Homepage

    IBM has been talking this up for a while. The idea is to offload some "streaming stuff" onto the Cell processors. The phrase "XML acceleration" has been used [ibm.com], which probably means the Cell gets the job of taking some DB2 result and pumping it out in XML. It's also useful for SSL encryption and other related streaming-type tasks.

    This is a traditional IBM transaction processing approach. The mainframe is surrounded by lesser machines which handle the communications and formatting, extract the transaction which needs access to the data, ships that to the mainframe, gets a result back, and then formats a reply to the requestor. In the green-screen terminal era, that was done by dedicated hardware. In the web era, too much of that work moved onto the mainframe itself.

    Think of this usage of the Cell as offloading the front half of Apache to peripheral processors. When your AJAX app makes an XMLHttpRequest, the idea is that the front-end machines get the request, decode it, wait until it's complete, then pass one single transaction to the mainframe. A single reply comes back, is reformatted as XML, and is shipped out to the client. The number of events processed by the mainframe goes way down, and all the protocol work is offloaded to the low-cost Cell machines with tiny memories.

    Has nothing to do with gaming, though. They're not putting the PS3's GPU (from NVidia) on mainframes.

    Still only 256KB (not MB) per Cell CPU, though. That's too small. Just cramming the whole protocol stack in there will fill most of the memory. I think this thing will really start to fly when IBM gets up to a 2-4MB per Cell CPU. Then you'll be able to fit the front-end processing for a web server in the Cell. Until then, it's a niche product.

  • Not a Console Chip (Score:2, Informative)

    by AikonMGB (1013995) on Thursday April 26, 2007 @03:03PM (#18889131) Homepage

    The title is misleading. The Cell processor is not a "console" chip, it is a microprocessor. Period. So what if Sony decided to use the Cell processor in the PS3? They could have selected from any number of processors: AMD64, x86, PPC, Motorola 6800.. whatever!

    The Cell processor is and always has been designed for shipping out complex calculations to sub-processing units (I believe their latest term is Synergistic Processing Units [SPUs]?), it was not designed for purpose of Sony bragging about it.

    Aikon-

  • by raftpeople (844215) on Thursday April 26, 2007 @04:50PM (#18890865)
    the only reason people still use the AS/400 or any other IBM mainframe

    An AS/400 is a midrange, not a mainframe. Despite having a large span of scalability, the AS/400 only overlaps the bottom end of the mainframe in performance.

    Also, the reasons people buy AS/400's and mainframes are as follows:
    Extremely high reliability and security
    Performance and scalability
    Protection of software investment

    justify scrapping for something modern

    Do you realize that the AS400 hardware and operating system is more "modern" than Unix? Did you realize that the as400 hardware and operating system have key features that other OS's lack today but most people are moving that direction? Do some research on security and the as400, for example.

    the AS/400 or iSeries as it's been renamed, could be replaced in a heartbeat by a LAMP server with an AJAX frontend for 1% of the cost.

    Have you ever seen an AS/400 that required even an operator? High end, sure, but small to medium business the controller puts in the backup tape and that's about it. Hardware/software, you're right, but unless you include support salaries then you are comparing apples to oranges, although you could make the exact same argument about Sun/Oracle being more expensive than LAMP.
  • Re:PCI? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Jherek Carnelian (831679) on Thursday April 26, 2007 @05:30PM (#18891575)

    PCI is doubtless the cheapest option available. Many systems have multiple PCI buses
    One of the key features of the IBM mainframes is high-availability - the machines never go down. That means they have to support the ability to replace failing cards while the system is up. For PCI cards, that almost always means a dedicated PCI bus per PCI slot - so you can power down and reboot individual cards without affecting any other cards (because there are no other cards on the same bus to be affected).

    I would be very surprised if the IBM mainframes did not implement each PCI slot with a dedicated bus, and thus also making the full bandwidth of the bus available to each PCI device.
  • by richman555 (675100) on Thursday April 26, 2007 @09:17PM (#18894245)
    The only reason the cell processor is on the mainframe is to accelerate certain things which perform poorly on the mainframe such as Java or web serving. Anyone who has worked on the IBM mainframe with Java will know this. Java works there, it just doesn't perform well at all. With this in mind, I don't see this used much for gaming. Hopefully, the cell is used for virtual mainframe Linux instances which seems to make more sense.

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