The HDD and Cell
Upgradeable hard drive
Other than a few vents, the only other thing that sticks out about the actual case is the panel labeled “HDD” on the side of the unit. I had to go to the dictionary on this one, as I thought it stood for “handy dandy device.” I was wrong. This is apparently where they put the hard drive, and after taking a screw driver and popping the side panel off, I discovered that I was right.
When you expose the HDD, there's a single screw that holds it in place. Once that's undone, you can easily slide the drive out. Being the curious sort, I ordered a 120 GB SATA for the purpose of testing out how easy it is to replace hard drives in the PS3. The answer: easy. It took all of 10 minutes to remove the drive, remove it from the tray, put the new drive in the tray and format. Something to note about the PS3 hard drive is that, like the XBox, a large portion (around 12 GB) of the disc space goes to the operation of the PS3. This is a feature that I cannot speak highly enough about. With the way my XBox 360 drive has filled up, I wish Microsoft had taken a cue from Sony on this one.
The belly of the beast
First of all, the touted selling point of the PS3 is the Cell Broadband Engine, or Cell for short. The cell is a multi-core processor designed for versatility and speed. In the Cell processor, there's a main processor known as the Power Processing Element (PPE) that's connected to up to 8 co-processors known as the Synergistic Processing Elements (SPE). There are also the elements for input and output of data, and they're all connected via the Element Interconnect Bus (EIB), which is a bus designed for circular data access.
There are a few things that make the Cell stand out, but one of the more interesting is that the SPEs are all fully functional processors, they're just usually set up to wait for a command from the PPE before starting any tasks. To this end, the SPEs also have their own memory cache and therefore can work individually without using memory from an overall pool. The majority of the computing work isn't handled by the PPE but is handed off to the SPEs instead. In fact, the SPEs can be chained together via the EIB and used for more complex tasks or handling multiple complex tasks at once.
So, now that I've gotten that out of my system, let's go back and look at it in layman's terms. The Cell processor is like a team of people working on a project. Each person can have different tasks that they can do separately or they can work on them together, but the end result is expected to still be the same. The different parts of the Cell can work individually for more overall computing power or they can be assigned out to do their own thing. In the case of the PS3, there are 7 active SPEs, 6 are available to the developers while the 7th is used for system security.