Sony and Toshiba are increasing their joint commitment to develop advanced semiconductors.

The companies will pool resources on development of technology for chips whose smallest features measure 45 nanometers (nm) across. Should they succeed, the resulting chips could be significantly smaller, faster and consume less power than today's cutting-edge semiconductors, which have features as small as 90nm, said Harumi Asai, a spokeswoman for Sony.

They each plan to invest $94.3 million in the project, which is scheduled to run until the end of 2005. The ultimate goal is mass-production of 45nm chips, although the companies have set a more modest target for the end of next year: taking development to the stage where they can consider the production of sample chips using the technology, Asai said.

While that target is a little vague, it is more aggressive than many of their competitors, few of whom have started talking about 45nm chips.

The deal cements a relationship in the semiconductor field started by the two companies in 2001 when they announced plans to work together with Apple's G5 chip supplier IBM on the development of technology for 65nm chips. Such chips are expected to be a stepping stone to the more-advanced devices covered by Tuesday's agreement, and the 65nm technology is expected to be used to produce the "Cell" microprocessor for the planned PlayStation 3 console.

First samples of 65nm chips produced using the technology developed by the three companies are expected to come off a test production line at a Toshiba plant in Yokohama, Japan, said Junichi Nagaki, a spokesman for Toshiba.

Despite their joint work with IBM and SCEI on the 65nm process, both companies have said they are not considering inviting other companies to joint the initial development work.

"This is just the two companies," Asai said. "We haven't reached the level of inviting any other company because it's still at the early stage."