Sony, IBM and Toshiba will begin development this month on a teraflop-class microprocessor that, the companies hope, will make possible within the next five years consumer electronics devices more powerful that IBM's Deep Blue supercomputer.
Announcing their plans in Tokyo, the three companies committed to investing more than $400 million into the scheme to produce a 1-teraflop-class consumer microprocessor over the next five years. An IBM facility in Austin, Texas, will serve as base for the ambitious research project, which aims to put as many as 300 engineers to work in getting the equivalent of a supercomputer on a single microchip.
To do this, the team will have to engineer the chip at sub-0.1 micron levels. In this type of chip manufacturing, the tracks and spaces in a chip can be made smaller than one-tenth of a micron. A micron is one one-thousandth of a millimetre. The smaller the tracks and spaces on a chip, the more components can be squeezed onto a chip and the more faster the chip can be. Current cutting-edge microchips are produced at 0.11-micron or 0.13-micron and commercial production at sub 0.1-micron levels has not been introduced yet.
Nevertheless, the partners are confident that they can achieve their goals. "If we were not confident, we wouldn't make the announcement," said Kenichi Sugiyama, a spokesman for Toshiba.
Pursuant to this goal, SCEI said Monday it has agreed to license 0.1 micron SOI (silicon on insulator) process technology from IBM for use in future broadband processors. The license will allow SCEI to build more advanced production lines in Japan for manufacturing microprocessors for its PlayStation series of games consoles and other future devices. Toshiba is already working on developing its own 0.1-micron process technology.
The new microprocessor has already been given a name: Cell. The chip will be designed from the start to work on broadband networks and thus be able to function as part of a larger network of processors. "Just as biological cells in the body unite to form complete physical structures, Cell-based products of all types will be more closely linked, making a network of systems act more as one, unified "supersystem," said Ken Kutaragi, president and chief executive officer (CEO) of SCEI, in a statement.
"In the future, all devices will be linked by a broadband network so under the umbrella of broadband, a lot will be linked," said Sugiyama. "This processor is not just for the PlayStation but for all types of devices."
The deal extends a partnership between SCEI and Toshiba that began when the former company was developing its PlayStation 2 games console. Toshiba developed the Emotion Engine, the processor at the heart of the PlayStation 2, and also supplies much of the Rambus DRAM (dynamic random access memory) used in the device.