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PlayStation 3 chip on track

Sony and partners reveal key details of their "Cell" processor and say development is on schedule.

Sony revealed new details Monday on the chip that will power the next version of its PlayStation video game machine and said development is on track to deliver products based on the chip next year.

Sony and partners IBM and Toshiba said in a joint statement that IBM is ready to begin pilot production next year on the "Cell" processor jointly developed by the companies.

The first product to use the Cell will be a workstation PC jointly developed by Sony and IBM and set to go on sale in 2005. That's machine is intended mainly for creating computer animation and enabling other demanding graphics tasks. Both Sony and Toshiba expect to begin selling high-definition TV sets powered by the Cell in 2006.

Sony has also confirmed the Cell will power the next version of its market-leading PlayStation game console. Sony executives have said they will show a prototype of the next PlayStation at the E3 trade show next May, but no on-sale date has been confirmed.

In addition to confirming product plans, Monday's statement from the companies included new technical details on the Cell, the subject of considerable speculation and obsessive secrecy since the companies announced development plans three years ago.

Cell will have multiple "cores," or processing units, based on IBM's Power architecture and optimized for multimedia applications, according to the statement. Processor cores will divide computing tasks and share information using adaptations of parallel and distributed computing methods that allow multiple computers to work on a single task, according to the statement.

"The progressive breakdown of barriers between personal computers and digital consumer electronics requires dramatic enhancements in the capabilities and performance of consumer electronics," Masashi Muromachi, president and CEO of Toshiba's semiconductor division, said in the statement. "The Cell processor meets these requirements with a multi-processor architecture and a structure able to support high-level media processing. Development of this unsurpassed, high-performance processor is well underway, carried forward by dedicated teamwork and state-of-the-art expertise from Toshiba, Sony Group and IBM."

Cell will also incorporate new power-saving techniques and allow for on-chip systems to protect copyright works, according to the statement. The chip will be built using equipment capable of creating circuits as small as 90 nanometers, the companies said, reversing an earlier commitment to build the chip using advanced 65-nanometer processes still under development.

The companies said they would offer further technical details on Cell in papers to be presented at the International Solid-State Circuits Conference scheduled for Feb. 6 to 10 in San Francisco.