Zii changes nothing

January 13th, 2009 · 1:32 am @   -  No Comments

Last week, I posted on Creative’s “ambitious” ad campaign for their new Zii product, the one laden with “intense” PR-speak proclaiming the dawn of an age of “stem cell computing”.

Well, as expected, this was somewhat overhyped.

imageNow, don’t get me wrong the Zii chip architecture (block diagram to the left) is very innovative. The basic idea is to design a chip with one main processor (in this case the 2 ARM CPU cores, “ARM-0” and “ARM-1”) to play quarterback to 24 “processing elements”, programmable chunks which can be used to do the high-speed mathematical computations which are needed to handle things like graphics, video, and sound.

But, not only does this fail to live up to the overhyped claim of “stem cell computing”, it’s not even that much of an original concept:

  • The chip which powers Sony’s Playstation 3, the Cell Broadband Engine, runs on a similar concept – one main “quarterback” processor (a PowerPC core not unlike the ones that used to run the Macintosh machines before Apple switched to using Intel chips) and 8 “synergistic processing elements” (their name, not mine) which can be programmed to do high-speed math calculations. The result is a very flexible chip which Toshiba has adapted to help with high-def video in its Qosmio laptops and Cell TV designs and IBM has adapted to make supercomputers.
  • FPGAs (field-programmable gate arrays) have probably already captured the “stem cell computing” crown (and they were invented in 1984 – some 25 years before Creative’s claim). Unlike most chips which have their circuit wiring set to do only one thing, FPGAs can be reconfigured on-the-fly to do anything – need a digital TV chip? Just reconfigure. Oh, sorry, not a digital TV chip, but a digital stereo chip? That’s no problem, just reconfigure.

Normally, I wouldn’t ride so hard on one company’s bad PR except for the fact that I sat through a horrendous video where Creative misappropriated and misused stem cell science to try to position the Zii as some amazing technological revolution that will change everything with “all of the benefits [of stem cell research], none of the controversy”.

That crossed the line for me.

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