A new book has revealed how Sony's huge investment in the PS3's Cell processing unit may have helped Microsoft develop the Xbox 360.
The authors of the book, 'The Race For a New Game Machine', are former IBM microchip designers David Shippy and Mickie Phipps. According to the Wall Street Journal's review, they worked on the processors for both machines, and say that IBM's design for core components of the Cell directly influenced the work the computing giant did for Microsoft on the 360's processor.
To add insult to injury, the Microsoft chip was commissioned later and delivered sooner than the Cell. The 360 hit the market first and established a lead over the PS3 that Sony is still struggling to crack. Although the book's authors claim both companies were winners in the end, the Wall Street Journal calls the debacle "one of [Sony's] greatest business failures".
"In 2003, IBM's Adam Bennett showed Microsoft specs for the still-in-development Cell core," said the Journal. "Microsoft was interested and contracted with IBM for their own chip, to be built around the core that IBM was still building with Sony."
The Journal reckons this was a lack of foresight on Sony's part. "It does not seem to have occurred to Sony that IBM would sell key parts of the Cell before it was complete and to Sony's primary videogame-console competitor. The result was that Sony's R&D money was spent creating a component for Microsoft to use against it."
In the book, Shippy, the chief architect of the Cell, says he felt "contaminated" as he worked with Microsoft engineers on the architecture for the 360's chip "with lessons learned from his earlier work on PlayStation".
The Journal reviewer contends that USD 400 million development of Cell was considered such a disaster within Sony that it led to PlayStation boss Ken Kuturagi being "fired" shortly after PS3 was released.
The extent to which the design of the Cell really influenced the more conventional PowerPC architecture of the 360 processor is debatable. But with Sony still selling the high-priced PS3 at a loss while Microsoft is able to slash the cost of its machine, there's no doubt that those "lessons learned" were expensive ones for the Japanese giant - and were picked up on the cheap by its competitor.