Sony aims Emotion Engine tech at SGI's Hollywood fief

Bricks fly at SIGGRAPH

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Sony used SIGGRAPH in New Orleans this week to poop on SGI's big hardware announcement of the year. SGI revealed the replacements for its aging Onyx2 and Origin series, using a new hardware architecture.

SGI's "bricks" are based around its proprietary fast switches, but the design should make it easier for punters to move to Infiniband interconnects without throwing out the chassis. Or that's the idea, anyway.

However, Sony's Computer Entertainment division announced a 16-way SMP system called GScube, based on its MIPS-derived Emotion Engine chip, the processor that's in its Playstation 2 consoles. According to Sony, GScube will top out at 97.5 gigaflops, although it's arrived at that figure by multiplying a single Emotion Engine's throughput by... er... 16, a metric that SMP mavens will doubtless shoot down fairly quickly. But since the work these boxes will be doing is essentially pretty parallel anyway, we'll reserve the scepticism we'd normally aim at newcomers to the dicey world of SMP scaling.

The cube is aimed at digital media production houses - Hollywood, in other words - traditionally a lucrative and steady earner for SGI. There the two meet meet head on, but both pieces of kit could head the shopping list when the conventional broadcasters bit the bullet, and decide to do serious streaming content over broadband.

For Sony, it's lavish a punt that may pay dividends, but for SGI, the announcement is far more business critical. In its last SECC filing, SGI admitted that its workstation business outside the US had all but collapsed, so it not only needs the new Onyx and Origin 3000 range to perform well, but look like they have some element of future proofing. SGI's split its "bricks" - seven in all - into CPU, memory interconnect and a range of other bus or other I/O interconnect units, implying that they're interchangeable. There's a lot of flexibility, and as you'd expect from the NUMA pioneer, they can be run either as shared memory SMPs or as clusters.

SGI didn't provide the customary benchmarks with its announcements, nor talk up its Linux initiatives. But it's been doing plenty of work on its own there, as well it needs to. Given the huge historic software advantage that Silicon Graphics has as a platform, the movie business and its manufacturing customers don't have too many places to go to. But for more many more bespoke technical compute jobs, Linux clusters running on basic commodity PCs have proved well up to the task, and so long as SGI remains a takeover target, its got plenty more to worry in one of its most lucrative backyards. ®

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