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Sony PSX's 90nm CPU is ‘not 90nm’

It's a 130nm part, alleges chip researcher

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Sony's PSX Playstation-cum-personal digital video recorder is not based on a 90nm processor as is widely believed but a 130nm version of the chip, Canadian technology analysis company Semiconductor Insights has claimed.

"Sony claims to manufacture at 90nm, but the design rules are relaxed to 130nm," SI says. "The e-DRAM trench cells are also laid out using 130nm design rules."

The company bases its conclusion - to be outlined in an forthcoming report Quick Look I: Sony CXD9797GB Emotion Engine and Graphics Synthesizer - after getting its hands on the chip and opening up the packaging.

Certainly, Sony claims the chip is fabbed at 90nm. In this press release of 27 November 2003, detailing the upcoming Japanese launch to the two PSX models, the DESR-5000 and DESR-7000, the machines' processor is stated as being a "90nm EE+GS".

When Sony announced last may that it was working on an SoC that combined the PlayStation 2's Emotion Engine and Graphics Synthesiser chips onto a single die, it said that it would fabricate the part at 90nm. Indeed, it referred to the past as the "EE+GS@90nm".

The 53.5 million transistor chip would be the first offering of Sony's restructured chip division, the operation's chief, Ken Kutaragi, said at the time. Soon after Sony said the EE+GS@90nm would form the basis for the PSX.

SI specialises in reviewing new chip technologies and patents, so it should know what it's talking about. It lists Texas Instruments and Intel among its customers.

Does it matter? For PSX users, arguably not, provided the machine performs as advertised, and there's no indication that that's not the case. However, it does show just how hard chip companies are finding the move to 90nm. Witness Intel's difficulties with 'Prescott'. IBM is only now able to announce a 90nm chip, the PowerPC 970FX, already revealed by Apple, but due for an official launch next month. And AMD's cautious release of 90nm product late next quarter looks ever more prudent compared to Sony's bullish claims of last May. ®

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