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All for one--chip, that is

A collection of 36 companies announces an alliance to develop a system on a chip designed to speed the companies' time to market and increase functionality on a single component.

Rather than stand alone, a collection of 36 companies today announced an alliance to develop a system on a chip designed to improve their time to market and increase functionality of a single component.

The Virtual Socket Interface, or VSI, alliance is looking to share information on research and design, as well as find new ways to build on existing standards and specifications that can be shared by a large number of companies in different industries. Those industries include semiconductors, system builders such as Sun Microsystems (SUNW), intellectual property companies, and electronic design automation firms such as Cadence Design.

"Putting a system on a chip is nothing new, but this alliance is," said Mike Sottak, spokesman for Cadence (CDN), one of the companies leading the effort.

The alliance, which started about six months ago, has already moved about 95 percent through the process of developing a new interoperability standard that can be used for building blocks on chips, said Robert Payne, vice president and chief technology officer with VLSI Technology (VLSI).

A chip may now typically have three or four blocks that perform different functions, but the alliance hopes to increase that to the dozens.

Other companies involved in the alliance include Mentor Graphics (MENT), Silicon Graphics (SGI), and Sony (SNE).

The alliance will also result in a number of companies contributing to the design of one chip to perform a job, rather than using dozens to achieve the same performance. This is expected to reduce the size of the component while increasing its capabilities.

"Consumers will benefit because they want smaller products like in their cellular phones," Sottak said.

A core group of people, not unlike a board of directors, will oversee the committees that will address specific topics. "Initially, the focus will be on developing a set of technical standards," Sottak said.

As for VSLI, Payne said the alliance will give his company other intellectual property resources if his company doesn't have what customers need.

"I never want to say no to a customer if we don't have the IP (intellectual property)," Payne said. "This will also allow us to search for what we need within the alliance."

A policy has not yet been established on how members will be reimbursed, or whether they will receive any royalities for their intellectual property used by others in the alliance.