Today Harold Hughes, CEO of Rambus, came to New York City to perform the ceremonial service of opening the NASDAQ exchange, on which his company's shares are traded, and he was kind enough to invite Spectrum to have a look at the most prominent product to incorporate Rambus technology: the Sony PlayStation 3.
Our mouths were watering, for although we've featured this Christmas's object of desire in several articles — this one, from our August issue, discussing the Rambus contribution, and the current cover story, on a game developing company that makes one of the PS 3's hottest applications — this was our first chance to play with the thing to our heart's content.
One editor, a former Michigander who has gone carless for 17 years, could barely keep his automotive avatar on the asphalt in a racing game. At one point he got so badly turned around at high speed that he found himself facing in the wrong direction — only to see his own tread marks lacing the road behind him.
That is just one of the nifty details with which the PS 3 simulates real life. Then there's the magnificently detailed reflection of the surroundings through which the race car passes — the lights on the tunnel roof, overhead; the greenery of the hedgerows to the side of the track. Turn your head 180 degrees to the side and you see a tree, and though it stands quite apart from where players would be looking 99 percent of the time, it is a work of art nonetheless, with its countless leaves fluttering slightly in the wind. Off in the distance, beyond the track and its immediate surroundings, a flight of birds takes wing.
Rambus designed the DRAM memory and the bus system that link the fiercely fast Cell microprocessor to the graphics chip, a link that is always the bottleneck in such data-hungry products. One of the company's people takes the system apart to show a circuit board as tightly planned a cityscape as the world has to offer. Off in one quadrant you can see a little village that turns out to be the chip and supporting elements of the entire PSP 2, there to run old applications. In future, a Rambus engineer says, Sony will probably do that job on the main processors, by a process of emulation.
Under it all lies a clever system of heat pipes — copper tubes filled with liquid that boils under the processor and sends the vapor down to condense at the far end, effectively pumping heat away from the hot spots.
A lot of brainwork goes into these things. "The military used to drive electronics," Hughes notes. "Then, in the 1990s, it changed. Today, consumer electronics drives everything."