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Processing The Truth: An Interview With David Shippy


January 16, 2009 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next
 

Shippy doesn't believe that Microsoft yet knew that Sony had the PlayStation 3 in the works -- but liked what it saw in the PowerPC technology that was now possible thanks to design principles partly researched for Cell. "The initial tech that we built -- yes, it was paid for through the Sony-Toshiba-IBM Design Center, and was developed for the Cell chip," says Shippy. 

"All three companies… legally all had rights to go and put any of that technology, any of those processor cores into other spaces. All of them talked about doing that… so it was every bit IBM's right to sell any of that tech to other design spaces," Shippy explains. "It is very common to develop an interesting, leading-edge new technology and then utilize that technology across multiple platforms."

"I guess what everyone didn't anticipate was -- before we even got done with the Cell chip and PS3 product -- we weren't anticipating that we'd be showing this off specifically to a competitor."

Does that mean Microsoft got a look at the Cell itself? "No, we didn't show them the Cell chip," Shippy clarifies. "The Cell itself and the fundamental architecture that went into that, actually not -- that was all proprietary for PS3. What was shown to Microsoft was just a technology road map that said, 'hey, we can go do these high-performance PowerPC cores at very high frequency and low power'."

"In no way did IBM say anything about the fundamental architecture of the Cell chip; it was more about introducing Microsoft to the circuit design technology that enabled us to create these really fast processors."

So despite some higher-level conceptual ideas in common, Shippy stresses that both consoles' processors are very different, from architecture to software models. "They differentiated themselves in their own unique ways," says Shippy. "What's interesting is that they did that with this common building block that was designed initially for the PS3."

Shippy says things got more interesting once the two companies became aware of one another -- the Xbox 360's Xenon CPU in development solely by IBM, and the PS3's Cell chip by IBM, Sony and Toshiba.

"It really sort of changed the whole dynamic of the design center," Shippy recalls. "I had Sony and Toshiba engineers working side by side on this project as part of my team, and when this whole Xbox thing came in, there were certainly a lot of guys -- even on my team -- that were fairly upset about it."

He added: "The initial reaction was it sort of felt like a betrayal -- 'Hey, we've been designing this really cool Cell chip, and now you want us to do this Xbox 360 thing on the same timeframe? Seems like we're aiding a competitor here.'  At that time, only the IBM engineers knew about it. They struggled with betraying their partners -- and that was my initial reaction, too."

But with two major products now on the to-do list, Shippy says there was no time for moping. "I had to get over it pretty quick. While I was upset about it, I had to put on my PS3 hat or my Xbox 360 hat and basically just tell my team, 'Hey guys, this is no different than when Intel and AMD create a microprocessor and it goes into a Dell PC and an HP PC. Just get over it, and let's move on."

Once news leaked out that IBM had been awarded the next-gen Xbox game chip, Sony and Toshiba began to speculate, Shippy said. "That led to some distress there from our partners, because they weren't really sure what was going on. But they started putting all the pieces together, and saying, 'Wow, we're actually now designing this superprocessor core not just for PS3, but for our competitors.'"

"At the end of the day it didn't matter," he says. "At the end of the day, I had these awesome engineers and they just wanted to create the best leading-edge technology that they could, and it didn't matter whose box it was going into."


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