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Nintendo signs IBM for next-gen console

Big Blue chips to sell chips to all major players

IBM has its finger in every next-generation home console pie: Sony, Microsoft and now Nintendo.

Sony earlier this year confirmed that IBM-developed product will make it into Sony's Playstation 3, when it said that the 'Cell' processor being co-developed by the two firms, along with Toshiba, will be used as the basis for the next Playstation.

This month Microsoft signed IBM to produce the chip that will be used to power Xbox 2.

And now we have Nintendo. IBM developed the chip for the GameCube, a PowerPC 400 series based processor codenamed 'Gekko', so it was always a logical choice for future Nintendo consoles.

But speaking last week at the unveiling of a TV-sized supercomputer based on 1000 specially designed PowerPC chips, IBM vice president of technology and strategy Irving Wladawsky-Berger said the platform will be the foundation for next-generation consoles from Nintendo and Sony, according to a throwaway line in a Reuters report at the weekend.

So there you have it: IBM will be involved in the development and/or production of processors for future consoles from all three of the major market players.

Of course, the possibility exists that Wladawsky-Berger inadvertently mentioned Nintendo when he should have referred to Microsoft, or that Reuters got it wrong.

Nintendo is working on future successors to the GameCube and the GameBoy Advance. It is expected to announce the former next May at the E3 show. Curiously, with GameCube development partners IBM and ATI now confirmed as Xbox 2 developers, speculation is mounting that the new Nintendo and Xbox 2 may be one and the same thing, with the two firms essentially offering two, individual products both derived from a common platform.

Indeed, ATI has already been named by Nintendo as its future graphics partner - despite being signed by Microsoft, nominally Nintendo's rival. It's hard to imagine to competitors being happy to share one key component supplier, let alone two, such is the risk that commercially sensitive information might be exposed to a rival. No, the only way they would happily allow this situation to exist is if they are working on the same console platform.

That the two might co-operate against Sony has been the subject of rumour for some time. It may even herald an attempt to create a licensable platform on which both companies build a high-margin software business while others commoditise the hardware. ®

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