IBM Says 64-Bit PC Chip in Works

But will Apple embrace the chip? Maybe not, says analyst.

IBM is developing plans for a 64-bit PowerPC chip targeted at desktops and low-end servers, but it remains unclear whether Apple Computer Inc. has committed itself to marketing any systems based on the chip.

Initial details of the 64-bit PowerPC were disclosed Thursday when In-Stat/MDR published a brief summary of a presentation IBMs senior PowerPC architect Peter Sandon plans to make at the annual Microprocessor Forum in October.

The 64-bit PowerPC will be based on IBMs Power 4 design, the computer makers newest 64-bit processor, according to information that IBM, of Armonk, N.Y., provided to In-Stat/MDR.

The chip will feature an eight-way superscalar design to fully support symmetric multiprocessing.

"The processor is further enhanced by a vector processing unit implementing over 160 specialized vector instructions and implements a system interface capable of up to 6.4GB/s," according to IBMs summary.

IBMs decision to tout the chip may indicate that Apple has so far balked at embracing the chip, one analyst said.

"What I find is interesting is the fact that IBM can talk about it. If there was committed Mac design, you know (Apple CEO) Steve Jobs would have his hands around IBMs neck not to talk about this chip," said Kevin Krewell, a senior analyst at In-Stat/MDR. "The fact that IBM is talking about it indicates to me that its not a mainstream Apple product at this time."

The current bleak economic climate, which has undermined Apples sales and profits, and the likely high costs of introducing such a new platform may be deterring the company from making the leap from 32-bit to 64-bit computing.

"I believe its possible that its too expensive at the moment for Apple to commit to it at this point and time," Krewell said.

Nevertheless, IBMs disclosure will likely cheer supporters of the PowerPC design by showing the architecture evolving to more powerful implementations.