Sony and Toshiba close to sampling Cell technology

65nm process to begin trial production in Q1 '04

Trial runs of the advanced semiconductor manufacturing process which will eventually create the much-vaunted Cell microprocessor are set to start at Toshiba's fabrication plant in March next year.

According to a statement from Sony and Toshiba issued today, work on the 65nm chip production technology - which is more advanced than any system in commercial use today, as most companies are still coming to grips with the switch from 130nm down to 90nm processes - is proceeding to plan.

The nm (nanometre) measurement is important, because the smaller the size of the components that are used on a chip surface, the faster and less power-hungry the devices can be - a key consideration in the creation of Cell, which has been described as a "supercomputer on a chip".

Toshiba is expected to produce the first sample chips from its 65nm line in March and will ship them to customers for evaluation, but full production of the technology is not expected to ramp up until summer 2005 - just about in time to supply components for Sony's PlayStation 3 launch at the end of 2005, if that is indeed the plan.

The sample production will take place at Toshiba's Yokohama fabrication plant, but the commercial 65nm line will be in a new factory, which is currently being built in Oita prefecture and is expected to begin producing chips at 90nm in mid-2004 before being upgraded to the 65nm process further down the line.

Sony is also building its own fabrication plant for the 65nm Cell chips, with an investment estimated to be in the region of €5 billion being made in new plant in Nagasaki prefecture.

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