Sony details further IBM, Toshiba chip investments

Sony details further IBM, Toshiba chip investments

Japan's Sony announced on Monday plans to spend another ¥120 billion (US$1.1 billion) of the funds it has allocated to develop semiconductor technology for its PlayStation 3 console. The company will invest the money in technology to build advanced microprocessors for the PlayStation 3 and future consumer electronics products at its own plant and those of Toshiba and IBM.

The money represents the largest part of the ¥200 billion three-year investment plan that Sony and its Sony Computer Entertainment (SCEI) subsidiary announced last year. They invested ¥73 billion during the first year of the period.

The money will be spent to realize production of chips whose smallest features are 65 nanometers across at factories in Japan and the U.S. belonging to SCEI, Toshiba and Sony.

The nanometer measurement refers to the smallest track or gap width on a chip's surface. Sixty-five nanometers is about a thousandth the width of a human hair, and about half the width that most of the world's most advanced semiconductor 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 four companies began researching 65-nanometer production and chip designs in 2001. Sony has said its "Cell" microprocessor, which will be used in the PlayStation 3, will use the technology. Sony, Toshiba and IBM also plan to use the technology in a range of other chips for consumer electronics and computing products.

The second-phase investment announced Monday will see approximately ¥53 billion put into SCEI's Fab 2 facility in Nagasaki in west Japan. The first floor of the factory is currently vacant and the money will be used to build a clean room to house the 65-nanometer production line, said Yoshiko Furusawa, a spokeswoman for SCEI in Tokyo.

Sony said it will invest around ¥36 billion in IBM's semiconductor plant in East Fishkill, New York, and the remainder of the money, around ¥31 billion, will be invested into Toshiba's plant in Oita prefecture in Japan. This latter investment will bring Sony's total investment in the Toshiba facility to ¥42 billion. In a related announcement, Toshiba said Monday it will also invest ¥42 billion in the Oita facility.

All three plants are expected to begin sample production of 65-nanometer chips in the first half of calendar year 2005, according to Sony.

The SCEI spokeswoman would not comment on when mass production is expected to begin. Without it, a steady supply of chips cannot be assured for the company's PlayStation 3 console. Timing for the release of the console has not been disclosed by SCEI although the chip production schedules disclosed Monday suggest a launch will not be possible until late 2005 at the earliest.

Last month, Toshiba said it expects to produce its first sample chips at 65 nanometers in March this year. The LSI (large scale integrated circuit) chips will be produced on a prototype line at the company's factory in Yokohama, Japan, and supplied to customers for evaluation.

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