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Tuesday, 24 June 2008 05:46

Toshiba reveals PlayStation 3 powered supercomputer laptop

The new Toshiba Qosmio G50 laptop will feature a SpursEngine Quad Core HD processor. Based upon the same Cell design as found in the PS3 and the world's fastest supercomputer, is it more laptop than anyone really needs?

Jointly developed by IBM, Sony and Toshiba, Cell processors were first seen in the PlayStation 3 games console. More recently IBM took 12,240 of them and, along with 6,562 dual-core AMD Opterons, built a supercomputer. Not just any supercomputer, you understand, but the faster computer on the planet.

How fast? How does 1.026 petaflops hit you! A petaflop is one thousand trillion calculations per second, which is quite a lot.

So one has to wonder just what Toshiba are thinking of when it decides to stuff one into a laptop of all things. I mean, you would have to be one serious gamer or have some kind of Dr Evil world domination plan to need those floating point supercomputer calculations on your lap, surely?

To be fair to Toshiba, it hasn't opted for 12,000 Cell processors. In fact, it hasn't even opted for one. The SpursEngine version it has used is more like half a Cell processor. Instead of having eight dedicated co-processors for handling those intensive operation functions it only has four.

Well that's OK then.

Oh, and if you don't like the SpursEngine label then Toshiba are quite happy for you to call it a Quad Core HD Processor instead. That's what Toshiba is doing in all the marketing material at any rate.

The first machines are likely to go sale exclusively in Japan in July, at a cost of around AUD $3000. The Qosmio G50 SpursEngine will run at 1.5GHz peaking at 48 Gflops, and needs up to 20 watts of power as well as some dedicated RDRAM. The thing that is perplexing some tech savvy observers is why it is needed at all when the G50 will also feature a NVIDIA GeForce 9600M GT with 512MB of DDR3.

Toshiba says that the OS will itself run on an Intel Core 2 Duo chip, while the SpursEngine deals with stuff like processing high-definition video. In fact, Toshiba is pushing things like an ability to upscale standard to high def video and perform real time digital TV to MPEG4 transcoding as good reason to buy into the supercomputer laptop dream.

I suspect early adopters and rich geeks will rush to purchase the 18.4" high def screened machine with its 500GB hard drive and dual digital TV tuners. The rest of us will wait and see what applications can actually make use of all that power, and how long it can last away from the mains socket before splashing the cash.

So far we know that DVD MovieFactory will support/ the SpursEngine. We know because it has been seen demonstrating the power on tap in this machine. It took a 3GHz Intel Core 2 Quad CPU twice as long to transcode some 1080p H.264 video to 480p as the machine with the SpursEngine running.

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