Programming the Cell Processor: For Games, Graphics, and Computation

Programming the Cell Processor: For Games, Graphics, and Computation

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by Matthew Scarpino

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Make the Most of IBM’s Breakthrough Cell Processor in Any Gaming, Graphics, or Scientific Application


IBM’s Cell processor delivers truly stunning computational power: enough to satisfy even the most demanding gamers and graphics developers. That’s why Sony chose the Cell to drive its breakthrough PlayStation 3 and

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Make the Most of IBM’s Breakthrough Cell Processor in Any Gaming, Graphics, or Scientific Application


IBM’s Cell processor delivers truly stunning computational power: enough to satisfy even the most demanding gamers and graphics developers. That’s why Sony chose the Cell to drive its breakthrough PlayStation 3 and why Cell processors are at the heart of today’s most powerful supercomputers. But many developers have struggled to create high-performance Cell applications: the practical, coherent information they need simply hasn’t existed.


Programming the Cell Processor solves that problem once and for all. Whether you’re a game developer, graphics programmer, or engineer, Matthew Scarpino shows you how to create applications that leverage all the Cell’s extraordinary power. Scarpino covers everything from the Cell’s advanced architecture to its powerful tools and libraries, presenting realistic code examples that help you gain an increasingly deep and intuitive understanding of Cell development.


Scarpino illuminates each of the Cell’s most important technical innovations, introduces the commands needed to access its power, and walks you through the entire development process, including compiling, linking, debugging, and simulating code. He also offers start-to-finish case studies for three especially important Cell applications: games, graphics, and scientific computing. The Cell platform offers unprecedented potential, and this book will help you make the most of it.


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The Cell Broadband Engine Architecture (Cell/B.E.) defines a new processor structure that extends the 64-bit Power Architecture technology and incorporates unique features that support critical real-time response of highly parallel, computationally intensive code. The first implementation of the architecture has resulted in a single device of heterogeneous processors mixed with simultaneous multithreading and special computational "accelerator" cores for more performance and efficiency gains. The processor comprises a vector Power Processor Element (PPE) with two levels of cache and eight independent Synergistic Processor Elements (SPEs), each with its own multilevel storage organization. In addition to processor-level parallelism, each processing element has Single Instruction Multiple Data (SIMD) units that can process from 4 words up to 16 characters per processing cycle, and globally consistent Direct Memory Access (DMA) engines that provide a rich set of DMA commands for seamless communication between all Cell/B.E. processing elements. The dual thread, 64-bit PPE controls and runs the operating system, manages system resources, and coordinates work sent to the SPEs, while the SPEs are dedicated only to the compute thread and its data.

Although the Cell/B.E. processor was initially intended for application in game consoles and media-rich consumer-electronics devices, a much broader use of the architecture is starting to emerge to handle streaming workloads found in today's applications across such industry segments as health care, life sciences, petroleum exploration, financial services, digital media, electronics, government, andeducation. To fully harness the power of Cell/B.E., developers need to use different programming models and to write multithreaded code that ensures the SPEs are well utilized and work is equally off-loaded across the SPEs.

This book is the first commercially published book written for those who want to program the Cell/B.E. It provides comprehensive learning material for developing multithreaded code that allows an application structured for parallelism to execute much more efficiently on those SPE accelerators. It starts with the IBM Software Development Kit (SDK) for Multicore Acceleration Version 3.0, which consists of run-time tools (such as the Linux kernel), development tools, GNU toolchain, software libraries and frameworks, performance tools, a system simulator, sample source codes and benchmarks—all of which fully support the capabilities of the Cell/B.E. The book discusses the device's architecture, including the PPE vector processing unit, SPE SIMD capabilities, and DMA communication mechanisms. The book also details SPU programming and exploitation of SPU storage by software module overlay and software managed cache. It includes an in-depth section on libraries, ranging from the basic vector and matrix libraries to BLAS, MASS, FFT, and Monte Carlo libraries.

Multicore processing is the future trend of the computing industry. Cell/B.E. offers a general-purpose, programmable multicore processor available to developers through high level programming languages such C/C++ and Fortran. However, in order to fully leverage the processor parallel capabilities, the application needs to be properly designed in both code and data. This book describes the processor in enough details and contains many practical code examples to get you off the ground to write your first Cell/B.E. application. Such experience should give you a competitive edge when working with other multicore systems, or as a foundation to work on Cell/B.E. homogeneous and/or hybrid clusters that are being deployed to support a wide range of high performance computing workloads.

Duc J. Vianney, Ph. D.
Technical Solution Architect1
Education Lead—Cell/QUASAR Ecosystem & Solutions Enablement
IBM Systems & Technology Group, Industry Systems Division


1What is the IBM definition of "Technical Solution Architect"? "This role assumes overall technical responsibility for the success of solution construction, implementation, and system integration in a technology, industry, or business specialty. They deliver new and complex high quality solutions to clients in response to varying business requirements. They utilize in-depth knowledge of leading-edge products and technology in conjunction with industry and business skills to influence clients."


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Meet the Author

Matthew Scarpino lives in the San Francisco Bay area and develops software to interface embedded devices. He holds a masters in electrical engineering and has spent more than a decade in software development. His experience encompasses computing clusters, digital signal processors, microcontrollers, and field programmable gate arrays, but he loves programming the Cell processor most of all.

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Programming the Cell Processor: For Games, Graphics, and Computation 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Boudville More than 1 year ago
IBM's Cell is a very impressive processor and Scarpino's text gives tons of practical information about programming it. But there is some material that's a little outdated. In chapter 6, it speaks about Apple's Power Mac using IBM's PowerPC 970 in 2002. However, for the past few years, Apple has gone with the Intel processor family. This book came out in 2008 and perhaps the mention of the Power Mac is slightly dated.

A strong point about Cell is its SIMD functionality. When appropriate, it lets you garner vast performance by crunching parallel data streams. For certain matrix operations, including a lot of image processing, SIMD is valid, and if these are your main applications, it is well worth taking a close look at using Cell.

What IBM has also done with Cell is emplace sophisticated libraries that can be accessed at the C/C++ level. The crucial point is that you are not restricted to coding in assembler. The code examples are given in C/C++ to drive home this point. The libraries include a lot of matrix algebra that, as mentioned above, lets you use SIMD. So the standard matrix operations are well covered. And there is even a special case of handling 4x4 floating point matrices. Used for 3 dimensional contexts. More generally, BLAS is also available, which helps if you have legacy packages that use it.