Now a lot of people argue in the matter of power of the Cell processor especially against other popular processors and in particular “desktop processors”, this article tries to clarify this matter to both sides, the Cell crowd and the other guys: how each type fits in its place and how it’s necessary to distinguish between the two kinds of processors and not to be confused about their jobs.
When we talk about multimedia applications we mean the applications which are computationally heavy, such as games, simulation applications and others. These kinds of applications require a lot of computer horse power in order to get their job done in time. Normally, games and physics simulation applications are judged not only by their results but by the time taken for it to be shown, and in the case of games, they’re judged by “frame rate”.
The frame rate determines the smoothness of the game, the more frames you are able to display per second, the smoother your game is. And before your frame would be able to be shown on the screen, your game must complete a lot of tasks such as physics calculations, Artificial Intelligence, and some game logic stuff. That means, the faster you finish your “game work”, the earlier you draw a single frame.
Multimedia processors are best when they serve a single application, unlike desktop processors where they can handle multiple processes. And since consoles’ main goal is to run games – that is a single application, it’s obvious why would we need a specialized processor or I should say a “dedicated processor” to do number crunching tasks such as physics and graphics calculations.
In this case, the Cell processor is in the perfect place in a console, as its heart. A powerful cluster computing that can do a magnificent amount of calculations in a single chip. With nine cores, tasks can be distributed to achieve maximum throughput. Yes, the Cell is really powerful!
Unfortunately, if we move to desktop computing we’ll notice that the Cell doesn’t shine in this area. Desktop processors are made to deal with large number of processes running at the same time, so the context switching – switching between processes – is very efficient in this kind of processors because they can efficiently switch control among processes all the time to keep all applications running.
Even though desktop processors proven to be efficient for desktops, it’s not well prepared for heavy computational tasks such as physics and games, people may argue that desktop processors are well suited for games and these applications, but the reality shows the opposite. Desktop processors are complex and require lots of power in contrast to the Cell processor, and there is huge difference in the amount of mathematical operations between the two platforms.
So what to choose?
It all depends on the job. Dedicated processors such as Cell shine in consoles because they just fit there, and they’re perfect for the job, the number crunching stuff, physics or math, the Cell can deal with these stuff efficiently. But desktop computers shine in their own world, having more than one application running at the same time and trying to bring both responsiveness and acceptable performance to the user.
So it’s obvious that the argue about who’s stronger would lead to nowhere since it’s not done between two comparable processors, you can’t compare them because they are not the same, they don’t do the same job.