Cell, a radical new processor designed by IBM, Sony, and Toshiba, could enter production in 2004.

Collaborating engineers from IBM, Sony, and Toshiba have wrapped up the design for the inner workings of a mysterious new chip called "Cell." The new multimedia processor, touted as a "supercomputer on a chip," is well on its way to completion, IBM says. The chip could end up inside the PlayStation 3, and elements of its design will be seen in future server chips from IBM.

Cell has nearly "taped out"--an industry term meaning that the chip's pen-and-paper design and layout have been completed. Soon the design will be handed over to engineers in manufacturing, who will craft samples. Meanwhile, engineers have been testing various subelements of the processor, both separately and together, before the manufacturing unit connects them inside actual Cell chips. At this rate, commercial production of Cell could begin as soon as the end of 2004.