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Sony seeks wider reach for game-based ICs

Posted: 06 May 2003 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:sony? computer chips? playstation?

Sony Corp. is drastically revamping its semiconductor strategy: It will combine the chip operations of its headquarters with those of Sony Computer Entertainment Inc., then take the devices developed by the latter unit for the company's popular Playstation 2 game console and steer them toward a wide range of consumer electronics applications.

The company said it will also develop applications for the Cell processor that Sony is jointly developing with IBM Corp. and Toshiba Corp.

In charge of the overhaul is Ken Kutaragi, president and CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment, who was recently named executive deputy VP of Sony's main office overseeing the Broadband Network Co. (BBNC), an internal company. The broadband operation will play a key role as incubator for next-generation products based on Sony semiconductors, such as TVs, servers, and consumer products.

"We will create as many applications as possible for leading-edge semiconductors," Kutaragi told EE Times. "Our foundation will be the semiconductor business, which will foster new applications for volume platforms like Playstation 2. We need volume."

The semiconductor operations of Sony Computer Entertainment had been relatively independent from the corporate parent's semiconductor business. The first-generation Playstation used ASICs supplied by LSI Logic Corp., for example. Sony Computer Entertainment built the core engines of Playstation 2 - the Emotion Engine processor and high-end Graphics Synthesizer - at a fab jointly owned with Toshiba and its own Nagasaki fabs, respectively.

All that is about to change. Sony and Sony Computer Entertainment have announced plans to invest ?200 billion ($1.7 billion) to develop 65nm process technology and construct a 300mm wafer fabrication facility. The companies simultaneously announced they have integrated the Emotion Engine and Graphics Synthesizer into a single chip with 53.5 million transistors built in a 90nm process. The product, which Sony calls EE+GS@90nm, is set to begin volume production.

Under Kutaragi's plan, the EE+GS@ 90nm will first be used in other Sony consumer products, and then introduced on the merchant market. The first non-game applications will emerge three years after the Emotion Engine and Graphics Synthesizer first appeared in the Playstation 2. The Cell processor, however, will be available for wider use in other applications from the start, even as it serves as the core engine for Sony's next-generation gaming system, often called Playstation 3. Within about a month, Sony said it will announce a new application that BBNC has developed for the EE+GS@90nm.

Satoru Rick Oyama, SVP of Lehman Brothers Japan, applauded the push to find new applications for the game console chips. "If the devices are used only in the closed Playstation world, the technology would not evolve," he said.

The yield rate of Sony's semiconductor production will be hard to match, bolstered by the EE+GS@90nm's high-volume production for the Playstation 2, Kutaragi said. "This highly efficient technology is waiting for immediate use," he said. "The next-generation Playstation will probably take the form of a game box, though it will not be a mere game machine."

"I am very much interested in how Sony will promote PS3 as a new product for the home, because it will not be a simple game machine," said Lehman Brothers analyst Oyama.

- Yoshiko Hara

EE Times

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