IBM to Apple: We Have the Right Watts

By John G. Spooner  |  Posted 2005-06-30

IBM to Apple: We Have the Right Watts

SOMERS, N.Y.—Apple Computer Inc.s worries about watts are unfounded, according to IBM.

Apple said earlier this month that it will switch to Intel chips from PowerPC chips as IBMs future PowerPC processors projected power consumption will make them too difficult to design into future Apple systems.

But IBM begs to differ. The company could build PowerPC chips that satisfy the needs of the entire range of Apples product lines, including portables such as the PowerBook, said Rod Adkins, vice president of development for IBMs Systems and Technology Group, which produces IBMs PowerPC chips.

Adkins countered Apple CEO Steve Jobs assertion, made during the keynote address at Apples Worldwide Developer Conference earlier this month, that future Intel chips will offer lower power consumption and therefore yield greater performance per watt of electricity consumed than future PowerPCs.

"Our point of view is that was somewhat misleading," said Adkins, who oversees product development for the Systems and Technology Group.

"Apple positioned it that way in the public," Adkins said in an interview with But "Obviously I have a different point of view, because theres nothing about power architecture that limits you in any way in terms of power management or power efficiency."

Click here to see analyst Peter Glaskowskys opinion on IBM and Apples move to Intel.

IBM PowerPC chips could cover Apples entire product line, Adkins said.

But instead he said the nature of Apples relationship with IBM, including the fact that it had another processor supplier in Freescale Semiconductor Inc., is what limited the IBM chip roadmap available to it, Adkins said.

"They had Freescale primarily for the low-end and mobile solutions, and they really had IBM focus more on PowerBook, xServe and iMac. Thats where we collaborated deeply with Apple," Adkins said.

But "Theres really nothing in the architecture that prevents having an end-to-end line that can serve [all of] their needs."

Next Page: How Intel won out.

How Intel Won Out

Intel, as Adkins sees it, won out mainly based on its mobile chip technology and the way Intel chips fit into Apples software planes, even though he maintains that IBM has the capability to deliver a product such as a mobile PowerPC 970 chip.

Apple is expected to adopt Intels Pentium M mobile chip first for low-end desktops and notebooks.

"I think Apple decided…that they wanted to focus more on their software investments and that they wanted to leverage the Intel roadmap end-to-end," he said.

"More of the focus was around portables. Intel continues to drive a large client portable-based business. As best as I can tell, thats how Apple made that conclusion."

But its also possible Intel showed Jobs a new roadmap that, as Jobs suggested, gives Intel a major advantage in power and performance versus IBM PowerPCs, one analyst said.

"The presumption is that Jobs was given some disclosure of a future road map thats not yet been given to any chip analyst," said Richard Doherty, principal analyst at The Envisioneering Group in Seaford, N.Y.

"IBMs [Adkins] is being truthful in what [hes] saying," Doherty said. "As far as shipping chips, IBMs ahead. And clearly from what jobs said on stage, theres some turn in the [Intel] roadmap that puts them at par or ahead of IBM. But until that roadmap is made public by Apple or Intel, theres no substantiation" of what Jobs said.

Even despite the differences of opinion, IBM will continue to supply chips to Apple for some time. Apple has indicated it will release at least one more generation of Power Mac desktops based on IBM PowerPCs. The company is expected to utilize a dual-core version of the PowerPC 970, dubbed the 970MP, in those machines.

"We still have a number of products were doing with them," Adkins, who declined to elaborate on the exact ones, said. Thus "this is not a transition thats going to occur over night."

Meanwhile, IBM is pushing ahead with its Power processor plans and working with a number of other chip clients.

The company is preparing to roll out Power5+, a speedier, higher performance version of its server chip based on a 90-nanometer manufacturing process, soon.

Its also building chips for game consoles, including manufacturing Cell chips for Sony Corp.s PlayStation 3 and a PowerPC chip for Microsoft Corp.s forthcoming Xbox 360.

Its also continuing its work to make the Power architecture more open and therefore foster wider adoption of the chip and pitching its own design and manufacturing services to go with it.

"Given the success that weve been having with power in many, many segments—think about the game consoles where were actually enabling new market opportunities—we think power continues to be a highly differentiated solution that can scale from consumer through commercial-based, traditional computing applications," Adkins said.

"We continue to work with a number of customers in terms of deep collaboration and how they can leverage out engineers as well as [gain] access certain technologies and certain design capabilities."

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