IBM is producing a new, smaller Cell Broadband Engine (Cell Chip to you and me). The new chip could lead to a price drop in the PS3 or be the first step towards a slimline PS3.
We contacted a Sony rep for comment today and were told that he was vaguely aware of the story but was not yet in a position to comment.
The new chip uses a 65 nanometre (nm) production process, compared to the current chip's 90nm. The news confirms SPOnG's report in January
that a smaller chip could be on the way for the PS3.
Sony executive deputy president, Yutaka Nakagawa, recently hinted that we may see a chip using a process as small as 45nm by 2009. Speaking to Reuters he said "We tentatively plan to start commercial production of 45-nanometre chips in late 2008 or early 2009. We are going to study carefully whether we should carry out all the capital investment and produce them in-house.?
A reasonable question to ask at this stage would be, 'How does reducing a tiny thing by measurement units we barely understand drive down price?' Here's the techie bit, then.
One way this new chip could reduce costs is related to its production yield. Out of a given number of Cell Chips produced, a large percentage of them will be unusable due to natural faults in the silicon they're made from. Manufacturers can't do anything to avoid this. However, if the chips are smaller then there's less of a chance that any individual chip will contain a fault.
The upshot will be fewer faulty chips. It then follows that Sony would have to pay for less chips that it will never use, driving down production costs. This saving, in turn, could be passed on to the consumer eventually.
'OK, so how does a tiny reduction in the size of a chip mean we could get a smaller PS3?' we hear you ask.
If you've already had chance to get up close with a PS3 you'll have noticed the inordinate amount of vents in its casing. To go with the vents is a cooling system that occupies much of the PS3's buxom shell. That cooling system is largely occupied with preventing that tiny little chip from over-heating. With a smaller production process, the chip consumes less power and therefore less heat produced, meaning a smaller cooling system could be implemented. From there follows a PS3 slimline (or PSThree, as it will inevitably be called).
However, that is unlikely. With the aforementioned 45nm chip in development it's likely that Sony will wait until 2009 for the smaller chip before launching a smaller PS3. It was four years between the PS2 and the PS2 slimline, after all.
On the other hand, a smaller chip would enable Sony to reduce the size of the cooling system quite easily if it so desired. This would allow further cost-cutting and create a lighter PS3. Alternatively, Sony could keep the existing cooling system and reduce the throbby noise the PS3 makes after it's been on for a few hours.
Sony recently confirmed
the removal of the Emotion Engine (which helps enable backwards compatibility) from new PS3s, another move designed to cut manufacturing costs.
It's highly unlikely that we'll see a PS3 price-cut this soon after launch, especially with Sony making a loss on each console. However, it can't be denied that this new chip has the potential to take us that bit closer to a more affordable PS3.