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MIT Students Wind Up PlayStation 3 Coursework

MIT has finished what it claims is the first course devoted to the capabilities of the Cell Broadband Engine, the chip that powers the Sony Playstation 3 entertainment platform.

The course focused on introducing parallel programming to students and was taught by Saman Amarasinghe, a professor in MIT's Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and Rodric Rabbah of IBM, MIT's partner on the course.

The participants and sponsors considered the course so successful they are developing a programming contest around it. IBM will host the contest – dubbed the Cell University Challenge--for college and university students in 25 different countries, the company said.

Cash prizes and awards will be offered for the most innovative applications of the technology.

During a four-week independent activities break in January, the students designed their own projects to run on the PlayStation3 consoles. The project that was considered the best was a three-dimensional version of the vintage Pong computer game. The class was also noteworthy because students with no experience in parallel programming were able to build such projects, the professors said.

"The fact that students--with no background in parallel programming or the Cell Broadband Engine--were able to get their projects done from scratch in just about one month largely goes to show the capability and determination of our students, coupled with the availability of a robust toolchain for Cell development," said Amarasinghe.

A website hosted by the Computer Architecture Group at MIT posts information on the course, including lectures and recitation plans. It has been visited more than 100,000 times since the completion of the course, MIT said.

MIT and IBM said they plan to offer the course again in 2008.

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About the Author

Paul McCloskey is contributing editor of Syllabus.

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