Pushing Moore’s Law further, again

The three chipmaking giants are collaborating on research into the next generation of chips. Martyn Williams reports

Three of Japan’s largest electronics companies plan to work together on developing advanced semiconductor technology.

Toshiba, NEC and Sony have announced they will combine their resources to work on process technologies for 45-nanometer generation chips. A nanometer is a millionth of a millimeter; the measurement refers to the size of the smallest feature on a chip’s surface.

In chip technology, smaller generally means better. As features shrink, chips can become smaller, more powerful and more energy efficient — all attractive features, particularly in chips for portable devices. Most advanced chips are made today on 90nm production lines and some companies, like Intel, have recently started 65nm production lines.

“We will work on fundamental process technology,” says Sophie Yamamoto, a spokeswoman for NEC. “We’re looking at 45nm for digital audio-visual and mobile devices because for them, high-speed and low power consumption are important.”

That the three companies will work together doesn’t come as a surprise. Toshiba and Sony agreed two years ago to work together on 45nm chip technology and Toshiba inked a similar agreement with NEC in November. It said at that time that there was a good chance the three parties would come together in a single project.

The companies haven’t disclosed when they hope to complete development but the three-way venture is valid until September 2007.

It comes as semiconductor companies are increasingly looking to work together to offset the high costs of developing ever-more advanced chip technology and production lines. Toshiba and Sony have a similar development deal with IBM covering 32nm technology for future chips.

Last month, Toshiba, Hitachi and Renesas began exploring a joint venture that could handle future semiconductor production for them. The proposed plant would produce system LSI (large-scale integration) chips based on 65nanometer or finer tech-nology, they say.

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