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Sony: Cell processor was ‘really tough to get to grips with’

Playstation R&D boss makes the case for using a tried and true technology at AMD’s APU conference.


Sony chose to license an APU from AMD based on familiar architecture rather than design a proprietary chip from the ground up for the Playstation 4 because of its experience with the Cell processor, Sony’s Dominic Mallinson said at #APU13 Thursday.

Mallinson, Sony’s VP of R&D for Playstation, admitted on stage that the Cell’s complex and somewhat proprietary nature (it was based on the niche IBM Power architecture) may have stymied game development during the Playstation 3’s era.

“The Cell processor was the precursor to today’s accelerated processing units, very much a heterogeneous architecture” he said.“But unfortunately it was complicated to use.”

Citing issues with memory access and synchronization, as much like an APU the Cell has multiple cores, he said that “Developers found it really tough to get to grips with.”

In an era before the iPhone and when Facebook had only been available publicly for two months, building a gaming machine that did everything — from web browsing to media and Blu Ray playing — was too much of a challenge for Sony and let to compromises.

“It’s fair to say that we did spread ourselves a little bit too thin, and just tried to do ‘only everything’,” he said. “We asked ourselves a question: ‘what does PlayStation stand for?’”

“We stopped trying to make a product that was all things to all people.”

While Mallinson said why Sony picked a well known architecture, x86, which he described as a “supercharged PC architecture”, for the Playstation 4, he didn’t present a technical argument why Sony picked AMD over other offerings.

Mallisnon did say that Sony is intending the PS4 to have a lifespan of a decade.

The Playstation 4 is available November 15 in North America.

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