The PLAYSTATION 3 is unusual for a gaming console for two reasons. First, it is incredibly more open than any previous console. While most consoles do everything possible to prevent unauthorized games from being playable on their system, the PS3 goes in the other direction, even providing direct support for installing and booting foreign operating systems. Of course, many of the game-related features such as video acceleration are locked out for the third-party operating systems, but this series focuses on more general-purpose and scientific applications anyway.
The real centerpiece for the PS3, however, is its processor -- the Cell Broadband Engine chip (often called the Cell BE chip). The Cell BE architecture is a radical departure from traditional processor designs. The Cell BE processor is a chip consisting of nine processing elements (note the PS3 has one of them disabled, and one of them reserved for system use, leaving seven processing units at your disposal). The main processing element is a fairly standard general-purpose processor. It is a dual-thread Power Architecture™ element, called the Power Processing Element, or PPE for short. The other eight processing elements, however, are a different story.
The other processing elements within the Cell BE are known as Synergistic Processing Elements, or SPEs. Each SPE consists of:
- A vector processor, called a Synergistic Processing Unit, or SPU
- A private memory area within the SPU called the local store (the size of this area on the PS3 is 256K)
- A set of communication channels for dealing with the outside world
- A set of 128 registers, each 128 bits wide (each register is normally treated as holding four 32-bit values simultaneously)
- A Memory Flow Controller (MFC) which manages DMA transfers between the SPU's local store and main memory