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IBM, Sony and Toshiba, whose revolutionary “Cell” processor will feature in the next version of the Sony PlayStation, have extended their partnership to develop semiconductors.

In a joint announcement on Thursday, the three companies said they had begun a new five-year phase of their technology alliance.

Over the past five years, the three developed the Cell microprocessor, with its nine cores or brains, compared with the two just being introduced by Intel and Advanced Micro Devices.

Cell is designed for a range of appliances from high-end workstations to consumer electronics products. The PlayStation 3 is due to appear this year.

Underlying the development of Cell were advances made in process technologies known as Silicon on Insulator (SOI), where the silicon used sits on an insulator, needs 50 per cent less power and provides 25 per cent greater performance.

The companies said the next step would be to work together on fundamental research on advanced process technologies, as transistor widths fell from 90 and 65 nanometres to 32 nanometres and beyond.

“This is a winning combination,” said Masashi Muromachi, chief executive of Toshiba’s semiconductor company.

“With Toshiba’s cutting-edge process technology and manufacturing capabilities, Sony’s various semiconductor technologies and deep knowledge of consumer markets, and IBM’s state-of-the-art material technology, we can anticipate breakthrough process technologies for the 32-nanometre generation and beyond.”

Industry observers pointed out that the alliance did not mention joint development at the 45-nanometre level – considered the next step after 65 nanometres. The partnership is seen as making financial sense because of the high cost of researching, developing and manufacturing processors.

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