RealTime IT News

Sony Pushing Forward on Next Generation Broadband Chip

Sony Corp. said it is investing $1.7 billion in its new "Cell" processor, which is expected to be the engine behind PlayStation 3 and a raft of other future Sony electronic products.

Sony is saying the new chip will be a thousand times more powerful than the processor that runs Sony's PlayStation 2 gaming system. The company says the chip will be built at an upgraded chip fabrication plant in Isahaya City, near Nagasaki, Japan.

Sony said it will use the 65 nanometer chip production process on 300mm wafers, rather than the 90 nanometer system widely used today. The thinner chip manufacturing process enables more transistors to be placed on the chip.

But as Sony announces a huge investment, it is still not clear when PlayStation 3 will hit the market, and whether the Cell chip technology will actually be built into it. Electronic Design Chain is reporting that "the Cell project was originally envisioned as taking five years, suggesting that the final product may not be ready until as late as 2007. Although Sony refuses to talk about its future plans for the chip, it does admit that the Cell chip will not be the CPU in the Playstation3, reportedly slated for release in 2005."

But contrary to the report, Sony is releasing some details about the Cell chip, including its "multi-core architecture," which will allow for a stack of processor cores to be put on a single chip. Also, Sony is beginning to detail how the Cell chip is tied to its overall future broadband strategy.

"Building on this, Sony's Broadband Network Company, newly established as of April this year, will play a key role in developing next generation electronic devices and linkages to game devices," said Kunitake Ando, president and group COO of Sony, in a statement.

Sony is working with Toshiba and IBM on developing the Cell chip, which could be built into everything from new consumer electronics devices, television set-top boxes, cable and satellite digital broadcast decoders, high-definition televisions, Tivo-like hard-drive recording devices, and mobile phone and computing devices. A portion of Sony's major investment in the Cell development project will also be to upgrade Toshiba's 300mm wafer plant in southwestern Japan, which currently produces chips for PlayStation 2.

The architecture of the Cell chip may also be licensed to other computer manufacturers in the future, including IBM which may use a version of the Cell chip in its next generation of servers. In earlier reports about the Cell project, it has been called "supercomputer on a chip."

Analysts say there are questions whether Sony will recoup its massive investments in PlayStation 2, and now PlayStation 3. As PlayStation 2 matures as a product, and several video game manufacturers, including Nintendo and Microsoft innovate and upgrade their products, Sony will face a variety of product and timing challenges.

Sony has said it expects sales volume of PlayStation 2 to begin declining in 2004, and as a result, it is pushing forward with rapid development of its next-generation video console platform. There are also reports that Sony will be coming out with several new electronics products within the next few months, which will likely marry its consumer electronics and broadband strategy with its advanced semiconductor manufacturing capabilities.

Recently, Sony has said it will shutdown a wafer fab in San Antonio, Texas, which will impact aspects of the company?s legacy foundry facilities. The decision will lead to some 600 jobs within Sony's San Antonio's operations.