This blog was originally published on October 7th, 2007. It was published on TypePad and can be found here.
I had been pretty psyched to hear that the PS3 could "easily" run Linux. Several months back, I ran across an article on IBM lovingly describing the PS3 as the best thing to happen to Linux since the Linux powered TiVo.
As someone who loves to be called a sucker, I bought into the hype and purchased one. The central claim about the PS3 is that it is an incredibly...INCREDIBLY powerful computer. The Cell BE processor is considered to essentially be a "super-computer". Earlier this year, Wired magazine came out with a 1 pager stating that the PS3 could reach 1.5 Teraflops, the X-Box 360 can compute at 1 Teraflop, and it would take 430 P4 PCs to be equivalent to 1 TF.
Wow 1.5 Teraflops, that is incredible. It's like having a "super-computer" in your living room. Is this true? Is the PS3 the equivalent of 645(430 x 1.5) P4 computers? I don't know. Do I care? Not really. Have I repeated the Wired article to anyone who would listen....YEAH!!!
Most of the hype regarding the PS3 as a computer centers around its use of the Cell BE processor. The Cell was a joint development venture between Sony, and IBM. It is comprised of 2 Power Processing Elements and 8 count them 8 Synergistic Processing Elements. That's a total of 10 processing cores. That's like what...5 times better than my stinky laptop with two cores? Well No...
The SPEs are only data crunchers. The PPEs are in charge of the delegation of tasks, and the keeping track of which core is doing what. It's like a bad implementation of a planned communist economy. Like communism, it is complicated, difficult to plan for, and highly inefficient when implemented poorly. But even more like communism, the believers in the Cell BE believe it to be the better chip ideology.
I have seen interviews with Kai Staats the CEO of Yellow Dog (a PowerPC based PS3 Linux Distro) say that after reworking application code, they are code execute 80 times faster. Wow that does sound impressive, but we also have to remember that communist Russia had a literacy rate of almost 100%. Which sounds great, but you have to remember that they essentially killed all of the dissidents (people who can't read).
Which is a round about way of saying that it's all fun and games until you buy a PS3 to do one dedicated, specific high volume processing task and you find out that the DVD drive is locked and you can't use it as a dedicated DVD ripper.