Sun Microsystems has chosen Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing (TSMC) to manufacture its latest UltraSparc processors.

The Taiwanese company will also collaborate with Sun in the OpenSparc programme to expand research on the processors in Taiwan. TSMC will manufacture UltraSparc processors using its 45-nanometre production technology, as well as future generations of the UltraSparc, Sun said in a statement. Texas Instruments, Sun's current UltraSparc partner, will continue to test and package the processors.

Sun tapped TSMC, the world's largest chip maker, for production because of its lower costs, in addition to its advanced technology, Sun said. The companies are already working to make the transition to TSMC from TI as fast as possible, Sun added.

The term 45-nanometre refers to making chips with transistors and other components as tiny as 45nm, enabling them to be smaller, more powerful and energy-efficient. The nanometre term describes the size of the smallest feature that can be manufactured on a single chip. There are about three to six atoms in a nanometre and there are a billion nanometres in a metre.

TSMC has said that some types of chips made using 45nm technology are generally 40 percent smaller than the slightly older 65nm size, use less power, and have 40 percent greater functionality.

Currently, most chips are still made using technology 90nm and larger, but the move to smaller sizes is increasing, led by high end chips such as DRAM (dynamic RAM), microprocessors, core logic chip sets, and graphics processors. Intel, the world's largest chip maker, was first to mass produce chips using 45nm technology.

The move to developing smaller chip manufacturing technology is crucial to meet user demand for ever smaller devices that can do more, such as mobile phones with built-in PDA (personal digital assistant) and camera functions, and digital music players. Chip makers can also increase output using the smaller technology.

Sun has established six major universities as OpenSparc Technology Centers of Excellence so far, all of them in the US. The schools include the University of California, Santa Cruz; University of Texas, Austin; University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; Stanford University; and Carnegie Mellon University. The universities must sign a two-year commitment to execute chip design research and course work based on Sun's chip multi-threading (CMT) design.

If a Taiwanese university is chosen to participate as an OpenSparc Technology Center of Excellence, it will be the first outside the US.