Games developer Dean Calver, currently working as lead programmer for Ninja Theory on Heavenly Sword for the PS3, has posted an interesting article about programming for the PS3's Cell chip.
"Atomic Cache Unit. Never heard of it right?
Well its one of my favorite things on the PS3 and gets little love cos its one of those tiny features that make life so much nicer.
Atomic ops refer to the most important principle in multi threading. It say that a single processor must read/modify/write without another thread interrupting (hence atomic). Without atomicy, multiple core system are much harder (if not near impossible)
The ACU (s) are a part of each SPU that allow atomic updates to occur very quickly. It appears fairly simple each SPU had 512 bytes of cache (yes contrary to what you might have heard SPU do have a tiny bit of cache). 512 bytes is divided into 4 128 byte lines. The MFC (DMA) unit can bring a cache line in from memory and mark it reserved… if another processor writes to the same bit of memory the reservation is lost and you know to repeat the read/modify/write cycle to guarantee atomicy.
All good, but whats really clever its how its implemented. If another SPU asks for that bit of memory its get its from another SPUs cache, if its in there. So you effectively have a fast SHARED 512 bytes. When an SPU writes, the other SPU only have to read from the writing SPU cache rather than DMAing it back to main memory and DMAing it into LS. Cuts down alot of memory traffic. I even abuse it and just use it as a conventional cache and communication channel between SPU. You can push alot of data around with a fast 128 byte path."