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IBM, Sony, Toshiba start work on 32nm Cell

Enter second half of 10-year R&D partnership

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Cell processor partners IBM, Sony and Toshiba have agreed to take their technology R&D alliance into the 32nm era.

The trio first announced its plan to cooperate on the development of Cell and its underlying 90nm and 65nm fabrication technology back in 2001. Back then, they described the project as a five-year programme costing $400m.

Yesterday, the trio ushered in a second, five-year phase, this time extending the chip fabrication side of the alliance to the 32nm node and beyond.

What's missing from the announcement is discussion of the firm's plans for 45nm fabrication - suggesting Cell may skip a generation. Certainly, IBM's Lisa Su, the head of Big Blue's semiconductor operation, said the new deal focuses on "the next generation of process technologies" - implying 32nm is next-generation and 45nm isn't.

That said, Sony and Toshiba already have a separate 45nm joint development programme in place. In February 2004, the companies announced they would spend $190m to reach 45nm in 2005, at the same time other chip companies, most notably Intel, were reaching 65nm. Not that there's been any public announcement of late that the pair have achieved that goal.

The absence of IBM from the 45nm announcement may explain why all the 32nm R&D appears to be going to happen at IBM, specifically its Thomas J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, New York and at its 300mm-wafer manufacturing facility in East Fishkill. Research will also be undertaken at the Center for Semiconductor Research at Albany NanoTech, the companies said. ®

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