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Sony sinks $1.6 billion into 'Cell' plant

More details emerge about the highly secretive "Cell" processor, which is slated to power the upcoming Sony PlayStation 3 game console.

    More details about the highly secretive "Cell" processor--slated to power the upcoming Sony PlayStation 3 game console--emerged Monday.

    The new chip, touted to be a thousand times more powerful than the processor in a PlayStation 2, will be built on an advanced fabrication line in Japan, according to Sony.

    The plant will use industry-leading circuitry widths of 65 nanometers, compared with the 90-nanometer widths found in today's most advanced chips. Reducing the circuitry widths allows more transistors--and hence more processing power--to be squeezed into the core. The plant will also try to cut costs by using large, 300mm wafers.

    "Cell will be the basic processor for building networks," Ken Kutaragi, Sony's executive deputy president, told a news conference. "In addition to expanding its use in new applications inside the Sony group, we want to take it outside the home and expand it to a variety of areas."

    Sony, together with PlayStation maker and sister company Sony Computer Entertainment, will invest $1.6 billion in the new plant in the Nagasaki Prefecture.

    This puts the earliest date of release of the PlayStation 3 at late 2005, or more likely 2006, considering the amount of time needed to develop the process technology and mass-produce the new chip.

    In order to increase its performance, Cell will boast a multicore architecture, in which a single chip may contain several stacked processor cores.

    Toshiba, a partner in the development of Cell, also hinted that it aims to use the chip in next-generation consumer devices, possibly set-top boxes, digital broadcast decoders, high-definition TVs, hard-disk recorders and mobile phones.

    "We expect to apply Cell to a wide range of applications related to broadband networks, including digital consumer electronics and mobile terminals," said Takeshi Nakagawa, a senior vice president with Toshiba.

    Since early 2001, Sony Computer Entertainment, IBM and Toshiba have teamed to develop Cell, a new multimedia processor touted as a "supercomputer on a chip." Elements of its design are expected in future server chips from IBM.

    The Sony announcement is a "confirmation of the progress we've made with the Cell design itself, of our advances in semiconductor technology to help it reach its full potential and of Cell's far-reaching implications for a wide variety of applications," said John Kelly, senior vice president and group executive for the IBM Technology Group.

    CNETAsia's John Lui reported from Singapore. News.com's John G. Spooner and Reuters contributed to this report.