Creative's 'Stem Cell' Chip: Media Supercomputing or Cell Processor Copycat?

Creative has been teasing a strange "stem cell" chip for a few weeks as part of its Ziilabs offshoot. Now we know that it's a crazy-powerful media-centred system on a chip, designed to be daisy-chained together into a "nano-sized" super computer.

The idea of the name is that stem cells are the basic natural building blocks of the body, able to become any other special-purpose cell, and the Zii chip echoes this. The ZMS-05 SoC chip, as it's properly called, is designed to "do an immense amount of media processing in far less time — and with far less energy — than taken by standard processors." Inside it has twin ARM processor cores and a media processing array, alongside all the peripheral data control circuitry needed to get data on and off the chip at speed. It also has some kind of advanced power control, so it can throttle its power consumption and thus preserve battery life in portable devices.

It sounds like Creative is intending this to go into devices such as personal media players as well as, oddly, super computers. "Utilizing the virtually unlimited chaining capability of the ZMS chips, a state-of-the- art ‘hypercomputer’ with many Petaflops of processing power can be realized, which can be 100 times smaller, 100 times greener and 100 times lower cost than conventional super computers," runs the spin.

The chip is a direct offshoot of Creative's purchase of 3Dlabs, and the ZMS-05 SoC is the first product intended to usher in an era of "stem cell computing," whatever that may mean.

It's an interesting idea—but to be successful Creative needs to have learned some lessons from Sony's Cell processor. That chip, developed with IBM and Toshiba, is also a multi-purpose scaleable device, named for the basic building block of life, with potential for desktop super-computer power. It sits at the heart of the PlayStation3, and has the potential to be daisy-chained to form a small supercomputer—something one astrophysicist has already done to perform gravity wave calculations. But its multi-core architecture, while promising almost unheard of desktop processor power, has proven so complex that it's been a struggle for developers to learn to unleash its full potential with well-coded high-level software that makes use of multi-threading. The chip also had early low-yield problems in production, due to its complexity, which is a problem the Zii may or may not face too. It was expensive to develop, and that's also kept its price artificially high—the Zii is simpler, so shouldn't suffer this problem.

Creative, as Ziilabs, is intending to bring this to the market "very rapidly," so we'll hopefully soon see something like a super-powerful media player with the Zii inside. Until then, it'll remain somewhat mysterious.

[, and Gizmodo]

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