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Chip Consortium to Produce 'Cell'

Intel is facing a challenger in multi-core processors from a surprising competitor -- a consortium that includes IBM, Sony and Toshiba.

IBM, Sony and Toshiba say they are hard at work on a multi-core processor, based on Big Blue’s 64-bit Power architecture. While their plans call for the companies to all use a common chip, the fruits of their labor likely won’t arrive until sometime in 2006 – even though the companies’ plans call for production to begin this year.

Codenamed “Cell,” the new processor will also feature a multi-core design, and will support eight “synergistic” CPUs, according to a published statement from the partners. Although Sony says it may use the chips in upcoming Playstations, and Toshiba aims to use them in televisions, IBM, the main chipmaker member of the alliance, is also looking at the new chips to power supercomputers and other compute-intensive server products.

While the companies’ statements claim that Cell will provide as much as ten times better performance than existing PC processors and run at speeds in excess of 4 GHz, its debut won’t occur in a vacuum or by magic.

Intel has historically been able to improve the performance of its processors to keep up with and even outpace competitors. Besides, Intel is already the standard in many areas -- not to mention IBM’s recent abandonment of the desktop computing hardware marketplace.

“The thing you have to keep in mind with any new technology is that [being successful] involves getting the infrastructure built,” an Intel spokeswoman said.

At least one analyst agrees. “Intel is still the company that best knows what the market requires,” says Rob Enderle, principal analyst at Enderle Group, a research firm in San Jose, Calif.

About the Author

Stuart J. Johnston has covered technology, especially Microsoft, since February 1988 for InfoWorld, Computerworld, Information Week, and PC World, as well as for Enterprise Developer, XML & Web Services, and .NET magazines.

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