Archive for August, 2005
Much has been made of the lack of any next-gen optical disc storage in the Xbox 360. Many think it should have included an HD-DVD drive. But that would have required delaying the Xbox 360, and I don’t think Microsoft is much for that. So the Xbox 360 is shipping this fall with a DVD drive, just like the original Xbox did. And Microsoft keeps telling us that this is enough. No need for anything better.
From Software producer Masanori Takeuchi thinks differently. He’s working on Enchant Arm, an Xbox 360 role-playing game. Mr. Takeuchi thinks that developers will run into storage space problems on the Xbox 360.
“The volume of data in Enchant Arms won’t fit into a single DVD. It’s an RPG, so we’re thinking it would be inevitable that we release it on two discs,” says Takeuchi. “But to be honest, that’s even looking grim.”
But really, what can Microsoft do? They’re convinced that the first mover advantage will give them the edge in the coming battle, and so they have to ship the Xbox 360 sans blue lasers.
Does shipping a game on multiple DVDs really make a difference? Are you willing to pay a couple extra bucks for the additional discs?
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that the Synergistic Processor Elements (SPE’s) in the Cell processor are specific-purpose processors subservient to the main Power Processing Element (PPE), Dr. Hofstee warns.
More than just co-processors, Dr. Hofstee said, the SPEs are fully-capable processing units that are capable not only of running threads spawned off from a main program, but also running “single-core,” scalar programs in their entirety – not only multithreading, but multitasking.
These words popped out at me because I’ve seen a lot of criticism about the Cell, and how the SPE’s aren’t general-purpose enough to be of general use. According to Dr. Hofstee, the principal developer of the CPU’s SPE’s, “[Cell] is already fairly general-purpose, even today.”
I have a coworker who seems to manufacture rumours out of thin air.
“Did you know that Robert is leaving?” this person says.
“Really? I didn’t know that! How’d you know?” I say.
“Oh, no. I don’t know. I’m just asking.”
It seems to be that way when it comes to hot new stuff like the PS3 and Xbox 360. This time I’m talking about a little tidbit Joystiq (a very enjoyable site) picked up on the other day.
Here’s the original quote:
The Xbox 360 was hooked up to a Samsung DLP rear projection TV via component video. It’s a shame that it wasn’t connected via HDMI, but the Microsoft representative assured me that the 360 can output over HDMI, but that there isn’t a cable available at present. I guess we’ll have to wait and see whether this turns out to be true or not.
Let me translate the italicized portion into real-world-speak:
The Xbox 360 was hooked up to a Samsung DLP rear projection TV via component video. It’s a shame that it wasn’t connected via HDMI, which the Xbox 360 doesn’t support nor did Microsoft ever claim such support, so it would be really weird if it really was connected by HMDI, but I wished for it anyway. But the Microsoft representative assured me that the 360 can output over HDMI, but that there isn’t a cable available at present. This cable, I guess, would have to be a custom cable. Because there are standard HDMI cables already available for use with standard HDMI connectors. But Microsoft would have to have some kind of component-to-HDMI cable which converts an analog component video signal into a digital HDMI one. I guess this would involve some kind of active circuitry, so you’d have to power this cable by plugging it into the wall. This is kinda like the circuitry in the upconverting receiver JVC recently announced, but in a cable. I guess that’s what this cable would have to do because HDMI isn’t supported by the Xbox 360. I guess we’ll have to wait and see whether this turns out to be true or not.
So there you have it. How do you like my translation?
BTW, if Microsoft ever does add an HD-DVD player to the Xbox 360, that would be the time Microsoft would add an HDMI output. They don’t really have any incentive to do so before then. Component video outputs work fine for HD. Even 720p or 1080i.
Running a PS3 site as I do, this posting over at IGN really caught my attention. IGN is hiring a PS2/PS3 editor for the PlayStation team. It looks like quite a nice job, doing all sorts of things like what I do on this site, really. Well, not really. The job is a lot more involved than maintaining this little corner of the PS3 universe. You have to do features, news, previews, reviews, and more. The part that killed it for me though is the 14-hour work day they mention. Fourteen hours! Frag! Who wants a fourteen-hour a day job, no matter how much they love it? I know I don’t. So good luck, future PS2/PS3 editor, whoever you are. You need it!
IBM et al have released a lot of information about the Cell processor recently. Unless you’ve been living under a PS1 for the last five years, you know that the Cell processor will be powering the upcoming PS3 gaming console from Sony.
One of the most interesting bits is IBM’s claim of superior memory access. Currently the processors spend far too much time waiting on memory, so the Cell tries to ameliorate memory access problems with a new memory architecture.
This three-level organization of storage (register file, local store, main storage) — with asynchronous DMA transfers between local store and main storage — is a radical break with conventional architecture and programming models because it explicitly parallelizes computation and the transfers of data and instructions.
The reason for this radical change is that memory latency, measured in processor cycles, has gone up several hundredfold in the last 20 years. The result is that application performance is often limited by memory latency rather than peak compute capability or peak bandwidth. When a sequential program on a conventional architecture performs a load instruction that misses in the caches, program execution now comes to a halt for several hundred cycles. Compared with this penalty, the few cycles it takes to set up a DMA transfer for an SPE is quite small. Even with deep and costly speculation, conventional processors manage to get at best a handful of independent memory accesses in flight. The result can be compared to a bucket brigade in which a hundred people are required to cover the distance to the water needed to put the fire out, but only a few buckets are available.
In contrast, the explicit DMA model allows each SPE to have many concurrent memory accesses in flight without the need for speculation.
The most productive SPE memory-access model appears to be the one in which a list (such as a scatter-gather list) of DMA transfers is constructed in an SPE’s local store so that the SPE’s DMA controller can process the list asynchronously while the SPE operates on previously transferred data. In several cases, this new approach to accessing memory has led to application performance exceeding that of conventional processors by almost two orders of magnitude, significantly more than anyone would expect from the peak performance ratio (about 10x) between the Cell Broadband Engine and conventional PC processors.