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IBM Makes The First Cell Sale To Non-PlayStation Customer

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Last week, IBM and Mercury Computer Systems said they've signed a multiyear agreement. Under the pact, IBM will help Mercury develop Cell-powered medical and military gear. The products could be out as early as this year.

"Cell is a much more flexible chip than many had given it credit for," Brookwood said.

The Cell is an IBM PowerPC chip and eight other chip cores combined in a single package. The central core controls the other eight, which can be programmed for various uses.

By combining eight cores, a company such as Mercury can build products for less money, because it doesn't need to include as many chips as it otherwise would.

And the single Cell chip saves precious space on circuit boards within electronics goods.

"One reason we chose Cell is that it should reduce (our) cost," said Mercury Chief Executive Jay Bertelli. "Another is it gives you more compute power in a given amount of space."

Sony's PlayStation 3 was just the starting point for the new chip, says Ray Desai, an IBM vice president.

Software for such complex chips is incredibly hard to write, says analyst Brookwood.

He says IBM's support is critical to the chip's success, as is the emergence of more applications.

"It's a potential show stopper in terms of really broad deployment of the technology," Brookwood said. "You can always find a few brilliant software people to think of ways to do your application on their product.

"But finding ones that can come up with products for wide use is much harder."

But those chips will go toe to toe in the digital home.

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