Despite all of the denials, it looks like Sony really is selling the Cell (or 'Cell Broadband Engine' as it's called) to Toshiba. While on the face of it, this seems a bit odd, and possibly could be misconstrued as Sony 'losing faith' in its own baby. Not so. If you look at the bigger picture, this is really in line with, what is IMHO their ultimate goal with the platform...
At least according to Google's bad Engrish
the dirty deed is done.
From the press release:
The company was founded on three basic agreement by the new company, Sony and Toshiba will buy 300 mm UEHARAIN manufacturing equipment lent by the Lord to 65 nm (nanometer) process to support the expanded production. Toshiba and Sony Group next to each other that have been accumulated know-how to mobilize the 45 nm (nanometer) process to support mass-production system built for the production technology and further improve the efficiency of assets.
Ignoring the reference to divine intervention in the bad translation, I looks as though they are charging ahead with getting the die size down on the processor.
So why sell? It stems from, what I believe the ultimate goal is with Sony and the Cell. Throughout chip history there have been platforms that have stood out. The 6502
and the 68000
are two such chips that come to mind. The former usually most noted for being the chip in the first Apple microcomputer (as well as the Commodores, the Atari 2600, and the first Nintendo) while the later being the base chip for the Macintosh (as well as the Tandy TRS, and in later years the base family in Palm handheld)
Yeah, so what? Well one of the things that happens when you use a chip in as many areas as these chips where is the drive the cost through the floor. As with anything, the more you make, the cheaper they get. As the demand rose, there were incentives to make the chips smaller and smaller and that drove things even farther. The interesting question one has to ask here is this: What if you tried to take a platform that you designed with your needs in mind and attempted to *make* this happen? This seems to be Sony's goal in the whole endeavor.
The Cell is designed to be used as one of many. So if you want to scale, you don't up the clock speed or tweak the die, you just add another chip. The Playstation 4 has two of these chips. One could easily see the Playstation 4 having 4 or even 8 of them. Again, all you end up doing is making more of the same. The chip it self is also not out of place in other areas, while the 6502 and 68000 got their start in big sexy computer platforms, they spend the rest of their lives in microwaves and other mundane areas. This is a simple byproduct of cost going down and so many tools and people set up to code for them. Sony sees this. Just, exactly how many devices does Sony sell that use a microchip? Um, all of them! What is the benefit of rolling your entire
product line over to the same platform? Huge.
This is part of why the whole 'console war' that was being played out (largely in the media's eyes) has amused me. I would take the Playstation 3 as simply a platform to launch the Cell, and to push BlueRay. At the launch, the platform to beat was the Playstation 2... Which from a bottom line stand point had to be a nice place to be. So Sony jacked up the price. Why not? It still sold. 'Success' in this equation, really doesn't come down to 'winning' that war, it's more about getting the tech out in the wild so that it can take flight. And indeed it has.
So now what? Well, Sony has a bit of an issue. If it really wants the cost down on these chips, it has to make and sell a lot of them. While you can do this yourself, it's easier if anyone
can use the chip in their product. Look back to the 6502, when it was selling as the base chip for most of the home computers out there, who was winning? In that case it was MOS Technology, the maker of the chip. The perfect storm would be Microsoft moving the next X-Box (maybe the X-Box 180) to the Cell and the next Nintendo following suit (the Yipee perhaps?) This makes good sense from a tactical standpoint on both Microsoft and Nintendo's part except for one thing... If Sony still owns the chip, then buying the base of you product from your competitor seems a bit silly, no?
Rounding back to the 68000, maybe this has some relation to where Sony first learned this lesson. At the peak of the Palm handheld craze, there where a number of vendors selling devices with the Palm OS on them. Sony was one of them with the CLIE
. Some would still say that there was nothing like it then and Palm has yet to really match it from a style stand point, even today. (Save for maybe the design of the Palm V and m500 series) And then they stopped. The problem? They had to buy the OS from Palm. Kinda hard to compete in a space where your main competitor is holding all the cards, no? Palm did end up spinning the OS off into PalmSource (which is now part of ACCESS), but it was too late. Most all of the clones were already on the way out. (And Palm itself has walked away from the product of that spin off.)
So perhaps this is really just Sony learning from mistakes in the past. It's own and those of others. Having another face on the Cell (other than IBM's of course) is a Good Thing(TM) in terms of other companies picking up the platform and running with it. Sony, from what it looks like, will still be active in pushing the die size down to 45nm and I'm guessing we'll slowly see the Cell creep in to more of their products. BlueRay players come to mind. The PSP would be another obvious move. When it comes to digital cameras and encoding, there you go. It's going to be a bit like a game of Where's Waldo. Can Sony pull this one off? We'll see. There seem to be little doubts to the performance of the chip
. It'll be a fun one to watch, no?