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STMicroelectronics now joins the IBM chip alliance

IBM and ST, sitting in a tree.

IBM's chip federation has grown again.

Switerland's STMicroelectronics will collaborate with IBM to develop manufacturing processes for the 32-nanometer and 22-nanometer generations of chips. 32-nanometer chips should start coming out in 2009 or 2010. (the number refers to the size of the average feature on the chip. A nanometer is a billionth of a meter.)

A whole cavalcade of companies--Advanced Micro Devices, Chartered, Infineon, Samsung, Sony, Toshiba, Freescale-- already have existing semiconductor alliances with IBM and all of these alliances overlap and leverage each other in various ways. Under the ST-IBM alliance, researchers from each company will be transferred to the labs of the other.

The cooperation, ideally, will help spread the costs and risks in the chip industry. Designing a new process can cost hundreds of millions and a new chip can cost several millions to design.

Sometimes these alliances work, and sometimes they don't. ST, Philips and Freescale once cooperated on research and manufacturing in a plant in France; it has since been dissolved. AMD once had a far-ranging alliance with Taiwan's UMC that was dissolved before the first chips came out the door.

On the other hand, the Cell processor came out of the cooperation between Sony, IBM and Toshiba. IBM also helped AMD implement strained silicon in its chips.