Next-generation PS2 chip ready to roll

Sony's game division plans to start mass production of a new chip for its PlayStation 2 console this month, using a 90-nanometer process that should lower manufacturing costs.

Sony's game division plans to start mass production of a new chip for its PlayStation 2 console this month, using a 90-nanometer process that should lower manufacturing costs.

Monthly production of the chip, which combines the game console's microprocessor and graphics chip, will start at "several" hundred thousand units before growing to more than a million units by next year, Sony Computer Entertainment's chief technology officer, Kenshi Manabe, said on Wednesday at an industry event.

"The development costs to shrink down the chip can become quite high, but if you consider that we sell 20 million PS2s a year, then in the end it's cheaper," Manabe said at a forum sponsored by the Semiconductor Equipment Association of Japan.

Sony has invested more than 300 billion yen ($2.73 billion) to develop and shrink the PS2 chips by almost 80 percent. By creating a smaller chip, Sony can produce more per 200-millimeter wafer and reduce costs.

Initially, Sony used 180-nanometer processing technology to manufacture the PS2 chips, but it has gradually moved to narrower circuitry in recent years. (A nanometer is one-billionth of a meter.)

The mass production of the PS2 chips using 90-nanometer technology comes one day after Sony said it planned to begin sales of PSX, an all-in-one game and entertainment system, in Japan this year at a minimum price of $719.

A Sony Computer Entertainment representative said later that the chips using 90-nanometer technology might be used in other Sony products, not just in the PS2. Sony Computer Entertainment is a game unit of Sony.

Even as development work continues on the current generation of cutting-edge semiconductor chips, Sony's Manabe said the company plans to start installing equipment at a new plant that is creating a next-generation microprocessor, code-named Cell.

"We expect to start mass-production of Cell in the second half of 2005," Manabe said. "For the time being, we plan on setting up a pilot line."

Sony plans to invest $4.5 billion over the next three years in semiconductors, including $1.8 billion for Cell, which will initially use 300 millimeter wafers and 65-nanometer circuitry.

Analysts expect the chip to power Sony's next-generation game console, but the company aims to make Cell the global standard for consumer electronics in the high-speed Internet era. The next-generation microprocessor is being developed with Toshiba and IBM.

Story Copyright  © 2003 Reuters Limited.  All rights reserved.

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