After many starts and stops, the IBM Cell processor seems to finally have reached the end of a short road. The chip used in the Sony PS3 and several server solutions, never seemed to take off the way IBM hoped. Although we can probably never be sure what the biggest contributor the Cell’s short life was, the rumor has always been the difficulty in programming the chip.
Either way, the software world may not be ready for hybrid architectures like the Cell. Software has been written linearly for as long as software has existed. The tools do not yet exist for breaking traditional code into efficiently parallel-izable chunks. The architecture of Larrabee isn’t drastically different. Time will tell if developers will be able to make efficient use of this mixed architecture.
GPGPU technologies come at this problem from a different angle. OpenGL and OpenCL provide a single interface capable of addressing hundreds or thousands of cores. For developers, there is a clear distinction between running linearily and breaking data processing up in a massively parallel environment.
It’s exciting to see innovations in the compute space. It’s been many years since truly innovative designs and architectures have had a meaningful impact on how processing chips work.