E3 : Set for 2006 launch, Sony's PS3 packs power

Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. (SCEI) provided the first detailed specifications of its next-generation PlayStation 3 games console on Tuesday and said it plans to launch the device during the first half of 2006.

Until now, the company has kept details of the machine a closely guarded secret but is using this week's E3 show in Los Angeles to showcase the console. The PlayStation 3 will compete against Microsoft Corp.'s new Xbox 360, details of which were announced last week.

At the heart of the PlayStation 3 lie two very powerful processors. One, the main processor, is a new chip called Cell that was developed for use in the console by SCEI, its parent company Sony Corp., Toshiba Corp. and IBM Corp. The chip is based on IBM's PowerPC architecture and will have seven cores, each running at 3.2GHz, to give the chip a total performance of 218GFlops (floating point operations per second).

That's 35 times the performance of the processor inside the current PlayStation 2, according to Koichiro Katsurayama, a spokesman for SCEI in Tokyo.

Running alongside the Cell will be a graphics processor developed by Nvidia Corp. that is capable of handling full high-definition images and boasts performance of 1.8TFlops. Together, the two chips will give the PlayStation 3 a total system performance of 2TFlops, or about double that claimed by Microsoft for the Xbox 360.

The processors will be backed up by 256MB of Rambus Inc.'s XDR (Extreme Data Rate) memory running at 3.2GHz and 256MB of GDDR3 (Graphics Double Data Rate 3) graphics memory running at 700MHz. System bandwidth between the processors and memory is as high as 25.6Gbps (bits per second) for main memory and 22.4Gbps for graphics memory.

SCEI has made considerable changes throughout the PlayStation 3 compared to the current PlayStation 2.

Communication interfaces have been upgraded and the PlayStation 3 will include three Ethernet ports, 802.11b/g wireless LAN and Bluetooth. In addition, there are six USB 2.0 interfaces and card slots for Memory Stick, Secure Digital and Compact Flash (CF) memory cards. The console also includes a slot for a removable 2.5-inch hard-disk drive.

SCEI is offering a number of controller options, including a Bluetooth-based wireless controller and a wired model that connects to the console using USB. Users can also use a PlayStation Portable as a controller over a wireless LAN.

For gamers, the PlayStation 3's upgraded graphics will likely be the most important improvement. In addition to the extra performance offered by the new chips, the PlayStation 3 will also be capable of high-definition output up to 1,080 lines in progressive scan, which is the highest image quality of several signal types generally grouped as high-definition signals.

Besides playing games, the console will also double as a player for high-definition movies on Blu-ray Disc. PlayStation 3 games will also come on Blu-ray Disc and the drive will support almost all flavors of CD and DVD media and Super Audio CD.

SCEI did not disclose any details regarding the regional launch schedule or pricing.

Fo more game related news, reviews and information, please visit Macworld's Game Room.

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