The Cell processor sits at the heart of the PlayStation 3, the most powerful game console yet developed, and a high-performance computer from IBM. Now Toshiba wants to put that power into mobile devices and phones.
A roadmap for the processor on display by Toshiba at last week's Ceatec show in Japan showed a more powerful version of the chip under development for 2007. While details of the chip were not available, a source close to Toshiba said the new device would be manufactured using more advanced 65-nanometre (nm) production technology. The current chips are being made on a 90nm line and the switch will mean lower power consumption and increased performance.
Looking further ahead the roadmap calls for further increases in power between next year and the end of the decade. At the same time "mid-class" versions of the processor are also envisaged for 2008 and beyond and a mobile version in 2010.
The Cell chip is the product of a joint development project by Toshiba, IBM, Sony and Sony Computer Entertainment (SCEI). Each chip contains a main processor and eight sub-processors to deliver about 200G Flops (floating point operations per second) of power.
It will make its consumer debut next month when SCEI puts the PlayStation 3 on sale in Japan and the US but Toshiba has plans for the chip in other parts of the living room.
"As the first application we are focused on the consumer electronics area such as media servers or something like that but Cell itself is not restricted to that area," said Mitsuo Saito, chief fellow at Toshiba's semiconductor company and one of the key creators of the chip, Mitsuo Saito, said.
"Maybe other partners are going onto the very high-end. We are focusing on the low power area. One is for more mobile types of applications such as small games or some mobile phone-like systems," he said.
When the Cell partners disclosed details of the chip in 2004 both Toshiba and Sony said they planned to put the device into consumer electronics products by 2006. Toshiba said its plans have been delayed but remain very much in-place while Sony said it is currently concentrating on getting the Cell into the PlayStation 3 and will look at other uses once the games console is launched.
Toshiba's Saito said the three partners are also collaborating on the software side so that Cell-based software won't end up tied to specific versions of the chip.
"Also, maybe the most important thing is to have collaboration," he said. "Each type of Cell has to have the same basis of software so for this purpose we are doing a lot of effort to centralise software from the very small Cell to the very large one to have a uniform world. It's our plan to expand to that kind of area. That is a very important aspect so we are collaborating together, three companies, to enhance the Cell world."
(Additional reporting by Sumner Lemon)