IBM plans 64-bit PowerPC 970 processor for 2003

IBM Corp. is preparing a 1.8GHz PowerPC processor, its fastest to date, that will run both 64-bit and 32-bit applications, the company said Monday.

The PowerPC 970 processor, due out in the second half of 2003, will dethrone the 1GHz PowerPC 750FX as IBM’s fastest PowerPC chip, IBM spokesman Rupert Deighton said

PowerPC processors are used in low-end IBM servers and in Apple Computer Inc. systems. Special versions of the chips are also found embedded in storage hardware, printers and specialized industrial computers.

The PowerPC 970 sports a 900MHz bus and support for multiple processors in one system. The bus in a computer links the processor and the internal memory, while multiple processors working in tandem boost a system’s processing power.

IBM declined to say whether Apple will use the PowerPC 970, but industry insiders said it is very likely that Apple will. Nobody at Apple was immediately available for comment.

Jasper Kalkman, IT administrator at The American School of The Hague in the Netherlands, said he hopes Apple will offer the IBM central processing unit (CPU) in new systems, although he couldn’t say if the school would buy those. The ASH has about 140 Apple computers in use today.

“This really is a CPU that is promising something, now let’s hope that Apple will use it,” Kalkman said. “When it comes to purchasing decisions, we will buy what our budget permits us and what is available at the time we want to buy.”

Sixty-four-bit processors can handle twice as many bits of information in the same clock cycle as the 32-bit processors common in desktop computers today. Video and graphics editors, for example, could benefit from the extra power. However, applications have to be specifically designed to make use of the 64-bit architecture.

“Sixty-four-bit works well for the multimedia, Internet kind of applications that are now becoming the staple diet for PCs,” said Deighton.

Intel Corp. and Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) are both readying 64-bit processors for regular PCs. Intel and AMD’s processors are based on the x86 architecture as opposed to PowerPC’s RISC (reduced instruction set computing) architecture. 64-bit processors are already used in servers for memory or data-intensive applications such as databases.

IBM will produce the PowerPC 970 in its new facility in East Fishkill, N.Y., on 300 millimetre wafers using its 0.13 micron (130 nanometer) silicon-on-insulator (SOI) process. IBM says SOI better insulates the about 52 million transistors, boosting performance and limiting power consumption.

IBM will provide further details of the PowerPC 970 this week at the Microprocessor Forum in San Jose.

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