Electronic Design

Mercury Pushes Cell and VXS

Mercury Computer had a big push at Bus and Board. It started off with John Goetz of IBM Corporation and Joey Sevin of Mercury Computer Systems making presentations on Cell Computing Technology (see Fig. 1). Mercury’s latest masterpiece, the PowerBlock 200 (see Fig. 2), is a ruggedized version of IBM’s Cell Broadband Engine (BE) chip. This is the same technology that is going to power Sony’s Playstation 3. So what is a gaming chip doing in a ruggedized 1/2 ATR Long Tall box that’s designed for a tank or aircraft? Glad you asked.

The Cell processor is all about bandwidth and floating-point compute power. The chip houses 8 processing units plus a PowerPC processor. These are tied together with a high-speed memory interface connected through a high-speed bus. This level of computing power makes it ideal for handling image processing, radar data, and other high-bandwidth inputs that need to be massaged into meaningful information. Peripheral interfaces include a Gigabit Ethernet port, Fibre channel, a serial port, and some high-speed parallel I/O. The system consumes less than 400 W.

Mercury also has its Cell Technology Evaluation System that is integrated with its Multicore Framework (MCF) designed to optimize data movement through the Cell processor. The blade-based system can host one or two Cell blades along with Xeon or PowerPC boards. These servers run Linux and support Gigabit Ethernet and InfiniBand. There is a wide range of software support for the Cell processor, such as the Cell-optimized Scientific Algorithm Library (SAL). The Cell architecture is relatively new to programmers but parallel processing is something Mercury does very well, so expect some interesting things in the future.

The Cell technology was only part of Mercury’s announcement that included a dinner at the Long Beach Aquarium. Mercury was also discussing their PowerStream 6100 VXS system (see Fig. 3). This system can scale to 68 PowerPC MPC7448 processors with a compute power on the order of 761 GFLOPS. The processors come in quad blades.

The 6U system has space for two VITA 41.2 Serial RapidIO switch cards in the center. The switches can transfer data at rates up to 42 Gbytes/s. Legacy VME is supported via the P1 and P2 5-row DIN connectors. The system works with a range of Mercury Computer boards, including a host/carrier module that has one or two PowerPC processors plus a PMC slot. A system can also include an Echotek Seriers 3000T 4-channel, FPGA-based wideband tuner.

The two systems, Cell and PowerStream 6100 VXS, utilize the same software base. This includes SAL, the Parallel Acceleration System (PAS), and Multicomputing Operating Environment (MCOE).

Overall, the fish were interesting and so was the hardware. Now if I could just find that Cell processor floating around in a submarine …

Read more: Performance Technologies Packs Storage and Opteron Into CompactPCI

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