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Saturday, January 14, 2006

Toward the Chips of Tomorrow

Toward the Chips of Tomorrow

"IBM, Toshiba, and Sony -- the trio that developed the revolutionary Cell chip -- are banding together in an effort to keep the breakthroughs coming

It takes a ton of money and brainpower to keep the tech industry chugging along -- which explains a Jan. 12 announcement by heavyweights Sony, Toshiba, and IBM that they'll jointly develop the next generation of semiconductor technology.

The threesome had worked together over the past five years to bring out Cell, the revolutionary new chip designed from the ground up for multimedia applications running on networks. That chip, which cost them $400 million to bring to market, is expected to see action this spring with the introduction of Sony's PlayStation 3 video-game console (see BW Online, 12/22/05, "Sony: Shooting From the Chip?").

SHRINKING CHIPS. Now the partners jointly plan to develop breakthrough semiconductor designs and materials that will enable the next generation of Cell processors -- plus other chips -- to fit on ever-smaller pieces of silicon. The work will happen at IBM's Yorktown Heights Research Center and at its advanced chip-fabrication plant and the government-backed Albany Nanotech Center both in New York. "We're doing fundamental research," says Lisa Su, vice-president for semiconductor R&D at IBM. "People don't know how to do this yet."

Analysts hailed the announcement as an important event in the annals of the tech industry. They expect the partners to spend several hundred million dollars, at least, over the next five years.

"This is the first public commitment by anybody in the world to 32-nanometer technology," says Richard Doherty, director of the market research firm Envisioneering Group. Today, most chipmakers are using 90-nanometer designs -- meaning the width of the smallest circuit wire is 90 nanometers, a fraction of the width of a human hair." [more]

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