TOKYO – IBM (IBM), Sony Corp. (SNE) and Toshiba Corp. (search) Monday revealed their plans for the powerful new "Cell" processor the three are jointly producing to run next-generation computers, game consoles and televisions.
Cloaked in secrecy and the object of much speculation since the three technology conglomerates announced the project in 2001, Cell is billed as being far more powerful than conventional chips and able to shepherd large chunks of data over broadband networks.
In a joint release, the three firms gave a glimpse of their respective plans for Cell-powered products, but offered only outlines of the technical conference in San Francisco.
Sony said it would launch home servers and high-definition televisions powered by Cell in 2006, and reiterated plans to use the microchip to power the next-generation PlayStation (search) game console, a working version of which will be unveiled in May. Toshiba said it planned to launch a high-definition TV using Cell in 2006.
IBM said it would start pilot production of the microprocessor at its plant in East Fishkill, N.Y., in the first half of 2005. It will use advanced 300 millimetre silicon wafers, which yield more than twice the number of chips per wafer than the 200 millimetre variety.
IBM also announced plans to first use the chip in a workstation it is developing with Sony, targeting the digital content and entertainment industries.
Together, IBM, Sony and Toshiba are investing billions of dollars to develop and prepare for mass production of Cell, which is a multicore semiconductor composed of several processors that work together to handle multiple tasks at the same time.
"In the future, all forms of digital content will be converged and fused onto the broadband network," Ken Kutaragi, executive deputy president and COO of Sony, said in a statement. "Current PC architecture is nearing its limits."
Intel Corp., the dominant supplier of personal computer microprocessors, has similar plans to introduce dual-core microprocessors next year and has sought out new markets, including home entertainment devices, for its chips.
The Cell processor won't steal business from Intel in the near term, but Cell's abilities in network-connected consumer electronics should serve as a "wake-up call" for the chip giant, said Richard Doherty, the director of Envisioneering, a technology market research company based in Seaford, New York.
"If the industry embraces this form of computing, Intel could wake up and find the world's changed," Doherty said.