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IBM tries to lure gear makers into Cell

Program offers technical services, consulting to electronics companies to persuade them to use the multicore chip in their gadgets.

IBM wants to make it as easy as possible for outsiders to work with Cell.

Under a program launched Wednesday, the company will offer design services and consulting to manufacturers of electronics products to adopt the Cell processor, a multicore chip that will appear in Toshiba TV sets and the next revamp of Sony's PlayStation game module.

The program is similar to one that IBM launched to promote its Power chips. It also resembles efforts from Intel and cell phone chip king ARM. Customers will be able to get access to technical data, simulations and research on how to incorporate Cell chips into various products or to work with particular types of software.

Consumer electronics manufacturers and network gear makers tend to like these programs, because they cut out the need for independent engineering. IBM said it will charge companies for these services. Many chipmakers perform these services as a cost of doing business.

Whether or not Cell will find customers beyond IBM, Toshiba and Sony, the three companies that created it, is one of the major questions in the semiconductor market. The chip will run at speeds over 4GHz when it comes out and contain nine processing cores. It can also be used in products in a wide variety of markets.

"We believe a 10-times performance over the PC, at the same power envelope, can be achieved," said IBM's Dac Pham, one of the designers of Cell, when the architecture was unveiled in February. "It will usher in a new era of media-centered computing."

Several analysts and competitors have speculated, however, that Cell is entering a crowded market. They have raised questions about whether it could be somewhat expensive and consume quite a bit of power.