The PlayStation 3's Cell chip has made it a lot further out of the console niche than did the Emotion Engine that powered its predecessor, and for that, I credit IBM's cleverness in getting Sony to fund the purchase of a supercomputer coprocessor that could also be pressed into service as a game console chip. Cell is a fantastic fit for highly parallel, floating-point intensive supercomputer workloads, which is why Toshiba has formally announced a Cell-based laptop... er, wait a minute. A laptop?
When Toshiba started making the trade show rounds with a prototype of the Cell-powered Qosmio G50 laptop, I read some of the coverage and thought, "what a nice science fair project, but surely they don't expect anyone to buy these." Apparently, though, they do, as they've announced that laptops, which pair a variant of the Cell BE with an Intel Core 2 Duo, will go on sale in Japan in mid-July for about $2,700.
Toshiba touts the Cell BE part (more on that below) as a technology that will enable laptop users to do all of the real-time face recognition, DVD upscaling, video encoding, and camera-based gestural controlling that road warriors typically do when traveling. Or, at least, maybe Japanese road warriors do such things with their portables, but I don't think the company has quite made the case that there's a real market for portables that contain a large, power-hungry coprocessor that isn't a GPU. [...]
The SpursEngine runs at 1.5GHz and draws between 10 and 20 watts of power. Obviously, you'll want to be plugged into the wall when you fire up the one or two Toshiba-authored Windows Vista apps that can actually take advantage of the SpursEngine. Toshiba's chip needs its own, dedicated pool of RDRAM, which just adds to the device's total cost, footprint, and power draw.
The laptop also sports an NVIDIA GeForce 9600M GT with 512MB of DDR3, which, frankly, makes a lot more sense as a floating-point coprocessor for an x86 laptop than the SpursEngine.
It's possible to purchase the SpursEngine, along with its attendant RDRAM pool, on a dedicated PCIe card, and that's probably where the device should stay for now. I could actually see one of these adding some serious media processing muscle to an Apple tower if Apple would support it in GrandCentral/OpenCLâ€”the combination of the SpursEngine and a GPU would rock Apple's video and photo editing software lineup. And if Toshiba could get a desktop PC maker like OEM to bundle SpursEngine plus the custom software into its Alienware line, that could also make for a solid video editing platform on the Windows side.