IBM, Toshiba and Sony plan next generation Cell chip

The three leading suppliers have renewed their five-year agreement to work on chip technology together

IBM, Sony and Toshiba in Thursday announced that they are renewing their joint technology alliance for another five years and hinted that they see it expanding beyond the development of the next generation of Cell processors.

Under the terms of the original agreement, the three companies jointly developed the Cell processor that lies at the heart of the PlayStation 3 — which is expected to launch later this year.

According to the companies, the new agreement is part of a "broad semiconductor research and development alliance" and they will work on "fundamental research related to advanced process technologies at 32nm and beyond".

They have so far collaborated on Cell technology and its underlying silicon-on-insulator (SOI) process technologies at both 90nm and 65nm.

A 32nm process will mean twice the component density per wafer. As a result, the chips should include more components or be cheaper to make, or both.

Masashi Muromachi, chief executive of Toshiba's semiconductor operation, said in a statement: "With Toshiba's cutting-edge process technology and manufacturing capabilities, Sony's various semiconductor technologies and deep knowledge of consumer markets and IBM's state-of-the-art material technology, we can anticipate breakthrough process technologies for the 32nm generation and beyond".

Last month, the president of Sony's semiconductor business, Kenshi Manabe, said he was keen to see his company expand beyond home computers and challenge industry leaders, like Intel. "The Cell chip is as good as the Pentium, if not better, " he told an audience of industry analysts, according to an article in BusinessWeek.

Research and development for the microprocessors will be at three separate IBM facilities in the US.

The original Cell chip was released in February 2005, and hailed as a 'supercomputer on a chip'. At the time, IBM said that a one-rack server using Cell processors could achieve speeds of 16 teraflops: such a machine would be among the ten fastest computers in the world today.