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Cell-based computer breaks out of IBM

Cache heavy QS20 blinking in sunlight

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IBM has finally, finally, started shipping computers based on the Cell architectured it co-developed with Sony and Toshiba.

In fact, the company claims, a number of high profile clients such as the University of Manchester and the Fraunhofer Institute are already running the much ballyhooed devices.

Big Blue’s first Cell Broadband Engine-based machine is the QS20, which is part of the firm’s BladeCenter family. According to IBM’s data sheets, the QS20 blade features two 3.2GHz BE processors, each of which contains a Power Processing Element (PPE) and eight Synergistic Processing Elements (SPEs).

Each PPE is itself a PowerPC chip, with two-way hardware multithreading, 32Kb of level 1 instruction cache and 32Kb of level 1 data cache. Each SPE consists of a RISC chip with 128-bit SIMD capability and 256KB of local memory.

The blade also carries a 40GB disk, 512KB of level 2 cache per processor, and dual gigabit Ethernet support.

Given the architecture’s focus on high performance and graphics intensive applications, the vendor expects the technology will find its way into the medical industry, aerospace and defense, and oil and gas.

It'll be interesting to see how quickly it moves beyond those markets. IBM neglected to say how much it will be charging for the QS20. Somehow we think that, for now, it'll be in the "if you have to ask, you can't afford it" zone.

Update

IBM has since been in touch to tell us that the starting price for a single QS20 will be a mere $18,995. So, still in the "if you have to ask..." category we think. Thanks to those readers who also sent us links to pricing on IBM's website.®

Eight steps to building an HP BladeSystem

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