Sony, Toshiba disclose advanced chip fab plans

Sony, Toshiba disclose advanced chip fab plans

Sony and Toshiba have each announced plans to build advanced semi-conductor plants for the fabrication of faster and more complex chips as they look ahead to the next-generation PlayStation video gaming console and other broadband network products.

The two companies each disclosed plans to build cutting-edge factories capable of handling 300mm wafers at a production rule of 65 nanometres.

The latter number refers to the smallest track or gap width on a chip's surface. Sixty-five nanometres is about one-thousandth the width of a human hair, and about half the width that most of the world's most advanced semi-conductor plants are capable of today. A smaller number means semiconductors can be made physically smaller, because everything can be made to take up less space, or made more powerful, because more can be crammed into a given space.

The companies need such advanced production technology to produce the "Cell" microprocessor, which is being developed jointly by Toshiba, IBM and Sony Computer Entertainment (SCEI) to form the basis of the PlayStation 3 video gaming console and other future consumer electronics products.

The chips are being developed as part of a five-year project that began in 2001 and has as its goal a 1 teraflop-class consumer microprocessor. If successful, the result would be a processor that could be fitted into household electronics yet is more powerful than IBM's Deep Blue supercomputer.

Announcing its plans, Sony said it would spend $US1.7 billion over the next three years. Toshiba said it would spend a similar amount over the next four years in building 65-nanometre production lines. The Sony line would be constructed at the company's Nagasaki plant, while the Toshiba line would be at that company's Oita plant, both in Japan.

First-year investment from Sony will total more than $US600 million. Toshiba said it planned to spend $US330 million billion this year on initial construction. Both companies declined to provide a schedule for trial or mass production on the lines.

The two companies also said that Sony was considering supporting Toshiba's investment in the new Oita line. However, a final decision on whether to provide funds to Toshiba and on how much to provide had yet to be made.

Separately, SCEI said it planned to move production of the main chips for its PlayStation 2 console to a more advanced 90-nanometre production line later this year. That would enable the chips to be manufactured with 4MB of memory embedded on the same silicon as the main and graphics microprocessors. This should result in lower power consumption and improved performance.

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