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IBM unveils long-awaited 'Cell' chip

A long-awaited microprocessor developed by IBM, Sony and Toshiba will go into early production next year, the companies said Monday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A long-awaited microprocessor developed by IBM Corp., Sony Corp. and Toshiba Corp. will go into early production next year and start appearing in video game consoles, high-definition TVs and home servers in 2006, the companies said Monday.

The processor, code-named Cell, will handle vastly more memory than today's consumer chips as well as enable hardware-based copyright protection and allow multiple operating systems to run at the same time. It also will feature multiple cores, or logic engines, on a single die.

It's unclear whether Cell will pose a threat to today's most popular processors, Intel Corp.'s Pentium 4 and Advanced Micro Devices Inc.'s Athlon 64. Both companies have announced plans to include features similar to Cell's in versions planned by Cell's launch.

All computer makers see home entertainment as major driver of next-generation computers and are designing systems that can serve up all types of media -- including high-definition TV, standard video and audio -- at once.

The consortium behind Cell suggested today's PC chips aren't up to such computation-intensive task, both in terms of processing power and the capacity of the data pipes that connect the processor to the system memory.

"The current PC architecture is nearing its limits," said Ken Kutaragi, Sony's executive deputy president and chief operating officer.

The companies released few details about Cell, saying more information will be divulged at a technical meeting next year in San Francisco. In fact, little information has been released since the $400 million partnership was announced in March 2001 with the promise of building a "supercomputer on a chip."

IBM plans to begin pilot production of Cell during the first half of 2005 at its factory in East Fishkill, N.Y. The first product will be a Cell-based workstation it is developing with Sony. Toshiba said it expects to launch a Cell-based high-definition TV in 2006.