Processing The Truth: An Interview With David Shippy
January 16, 2009 Page 3 of 3
The broad commonality, then, between the two consoles is the significant amount of parallel processing in the CPU enabling high power at low energy budgets -- compensating for the minimal space game hardware offers for cooling measures like large fans and heatsinks.
But whereas the PlayStation 3 seems to manage its temperature issues well, the launch of the Xbox 360 as a whole was plagued in its early days by serious heat problems that caused widespread console failure -- though this was not necessarily a CPU-specific problem. But why might that have happened?
"I think, like any company, they stretched the limit on the power budget," Shippy suggests. "They probably wanted to get absolutely as much CPU chip performance in this product as well as GPU, and cram as much as they could in there, and I think they were just a little too aggressive on how much they could package in there. Like any company, they probably took it right to the edge -- so you're playing with fire a little bit, there."
"I wasn't that involved with some of the console decisions and what the overall budget was, so I think from a system standpoint, they did their best due diligence to say, 'We believe we can build this and meet… the power budget.'"
But can Shippy's insight on both console's processors finally answer the age-old debate about which console is actually more powerful?
"I'm going to have to answer with an 'it depends,'" laughs Shippy, after a pause. "Again, they're completely different models. So in the PS3, you've got this Cell chip which has massive parallel processing power, the PowerPC core, multiple SPU cores… it's got a GPU that is, in the model here, processing more in the Cell chip and less in the GPU. So that's one processing paradigm -- a heterogeneous paradigm."
"With the Xbox 360, you've got more of a traditional multi-core system, and you've got three PowerPC cores, each of them having dual threads -- so you've got six threads running there, at least in the CPU. Six threads in Xbox 360, and eight or nine threads in the PS3 -- but then you've got to factor in the GPU," Shippy explains. "The GPU is highly sophisticated in the Xbox 360."
He concludes: "At the end of the day, when you put them all together, depending on the software, I think they're pretty equal, even though they're completely different processing models."
What about the familiar refrain that the PS3's architecture is overcomplicated, challenging developers to program effectively? "The Cell architecture, from a software programming standpoint, is definitely a new paradigm," Shippy concedes.
"And I think what the game community would argue is that, since it is different, initially it is harder to program the Cell chip -- it's not a traditional multiprocessor environment," he says.
"The real hardcore coders would argue that, once you do understand it and can program to it, you absolutely get the most out of the hardware, and really write some fairly low-level code that's really high performance," he adds.
"I think some of the bigger game houses that will write more high-level code would really prefer an Xbox 360 -- right out of the chute, it's easier to write code for. I think you can really leverage the Cell hardware technology -- but it is harder to get your head around."
Shippy's recounting of his role in the console wars has drawn some skepticism, with discussion taking place across the web suggesting the book has over-sensationalized the idea that "Sony funded the Xbox 360."
But he maintains he never intended sensationalism. "The Wall Street Journal article came out, and then all over the internet, there were these debates," he says. "I read a few of them -- and none of these people had even read the book yet. So everyone was speculating on it, and what happened and what was going on -- the reality of it is that isn't why we wrote the book."
"If you read the book, it's just an interesting story about a high-performance design team that delivered an incredible product on an incredible schedule, and the leadership skills that went into that. It's really a pretty uplifting story," he says.
"It really wasn't meant to be sensationalized as 'Sony funded the Xbox '. That was never the intent of the story. It's an interesting angle that that's how it sort of played out, but the story stands on its own without any sensationalism."
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