IBM to release 64-bit desktop chip

IBM Corp. will release a new desktop chip for its PowerPC line based on technology from its server chips this October, according to an industry analyst.

IBM will create a "stripped-down version of the Power4" for the PowerPC market, said Kevin Krewell, senior editor of the Microprocessor Report and general manager at market research company In-Stat/MDR.

The 64-bit chip will use an eight-way superscalar pipeline, which allows the chip to process eight different instructions during a single clock cycle. The chip will be able to process data at up to 6.4G bytes a second, and will contain a vector processing unit that can perform more than 160 specialized vector instructions. Vector processing allows the same instruction to be applied to multiple units of data simultaneously, an advantage when working with graphics-intensive programs.

An IBM spokesman confirmed those basic details of the chip, declining to reveal further information on specifications or target markets for the chip. Additional technical and availability details will be announced at the Microprocessor Forum in October, he said.

IBM's new chip will have to be targeted at the Linux workstation market, or at Apple Computer Inc.'s PCs, because it uses a different architecture and instruction set than PCs powered by the x86 instruction set in Intel Corp. and Advanced Micro Devices Inc.'s chips, Krewell said. Motorola Inc. currently manufactures the majority of chips used in Apple's PCs. IBM could also package the chip with Linux or AIX, its version of Unix, and sell its own workstations based on the technology.

However, the chip will probably start out in low-end servers, as its price might be prohibitive for desktop machines at first, Krewell said. Blade servers are also a possibility, but it won't be clear whether the chip can be used in those until its heat dissipation characteristics are known, he said.

The clock speed of the chip will probably be about 1.6GHz to start, ramping up to 2GHz as IBM becomes more accustomed to the technology, Krewell said.

IBM and Motorola Inc. jointly developed the PowerPC based on proprietary RISC (reduced instruction set computing) technology. The PowerPC is used in networking equipment, such as routers and hubs, and in consumer devices like set-top boxes and printers.

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