Israeli expertise helps put the bang into Playstation3

The Cell Broadband Engine chip controller conceived by the Sony-Toshiba-IBM (STI) team which powers the Playstation3 console.Moshe Leibowitz has never been much of a Playstation fan. But that didn’t stop the manager of circuit technologies at the IBM Haifa Development …

The Cell Broadband Engine chip controller conceived by the Sony-Toshiba-IBM (STI) team which powers the Playstation3 console.Moshe Leibowitz has never been much of a Playstation fan. But that didn’t stop the manager of circuit technologies at the IBM Haifa Development Lab from heading a team that played an integral role in developing the new Sony Playstation3.

Leibowitz’s Israeli team helped develop the Cell Broadband Engine chip controller conceived by the Sony-Toshiba-IBM (STI) team which powers the Playstation3 console.

The Playstation3 debuted on November 17 and sold 197,000 units on the first day, and one million within the first six weeks. Sony is planning to introduce the game to Europe next month.

“My team is quite young, most of them are around 30, so they have some gaming background,” Leibowitz told ISRAEL21c with a laugh, while confiding that he had never sat behind the controls.

The IBM Israel team started off helping out with smaller circuit design tasks, but very quickly became an integral part of the overall STI design team. These engineers were instrumental in developing the chip’s controller and additional processor components throughout the chip.

“We established the circuit design department four years ago, around the same time the Cell project began. Circuit designers are always in need – it’s a very unique skill, and the STI team was looking for engineers they could put on the job. We started on a small scale but as time went on, we got more and more responsibility. All together over 30 members of the Haifa research lab took part in the process,” Leibowitz told ISRAEL21c.

“We introduced a number of new tools and methods that were integrated within processes throughout the IBM design community and have proved essential in increasing productivity and quality.”

According to Leibowitz, the Cell is a brand new architecture that puts unprecedented horsepower into tasks like number crunching and video processing – with the end result being the Playstation3 user getting more bang for his buck.

In addition, IBM’s Haifa Research Lab played an important role in the verification process of the Cell. According to IBM spokesperson, Chani Sacharen, the STI team approached the IBM Haifa researchers to help with the verification process that would ensure the chip was designed according to its specifications and that no bugs were left in the design.

“The Haifa Research Lab has long served as IBM’s center of competence for both formal and functional verification-for all stages of design. The team’s reputation for excellence was further established with the verification work they did on IBM’s Power architecture. This made them a natural choice for verification of the cell chip. This verification represents a critical stage in the development cycle and helps ensure that a high quality product makes it to the market on time,” she said.

According to both Sacharen and Leibowitz, the inclusion of the Israeli element in the STI had a number of advantages – including the time difference.

“One thing about Israel being part of the team is that there’s an advantage as far as the time zone goes,” said Sacheren.

“That did turn out to be helpful,” added Leibowitz. “It was almost like the STI team worked two shifts a day – we worked the morning/afternoon and in the US, they worked the afternoon/evening. When you have a lot of pressured work to do, that can be very helpful.”

IBM Israel is the umbrella organization for all IBM activities in Israel and was established in 1950. It employs about 2,000 people, including those in the various labs. The IBM Haifa Labs includes the Haifa Research Lab, the Haifa Development Lab, and the Israel Software Lab. These Haifa Labs employ over 600 people, with locations in Haifa, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Rehovot.

Last year, IBM announced it was opening a software lab in Israel dedicated to advancing the computer-maker giant’s search, metadata management, and collaborative real-time technologies.

In an interview with ISRAEL21c, Meir Nissensohn, general manager of IBM Israel, said the company’s latest move “is a strong vote of confidence from IBM for the software development capabilities existing in this country.”

Following the completion of the STI Cell project, the international project head Kathy Papermaster visited Israel and the IBM Haifa operation to thank the staff for their contribution to the project. According to Leibowitz, each member of the team was promised a token of that appreciation – a European version of the Playstation3.

“If we weren’t Playstation fans before, we certainly will be now,” he concluded.