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.
: IBM Says 64-Bit PC Chip in Works”>
In addition, Apples migration to the Unix-based Mac OS X operating system has laid the groundwork for a possible transition to more advanced computing since Unix-based operating systems and applications are already widely used with 64-bit computers.
Overall, 64-bit computers are valued for their ability to handle computation-intensive applications, as well as their ability to handle thousands of simultaneous transactions and address vast amounts of memory. For example, while a single 32-bit processor can address up to 4GB of memory, a 64-bit chip can potentially address up to a petabyte, or roughly 1,000 terabytes.
While there are relatively few 64-bit applications designed for desktop, such applications are commonplace in the server environment, a market segment Apple has shown an increasing interest in lately.
Last month, Apple, of Cupertino, Calif., began shipping its first rack-mounted server, the Xserve, marking a somewhat late entry into what has become among the most-popular styles of server design in the last two years.
Even if Apple chooses not to feature the chip in a new server, the processor could still make it to market in an IBM system, Krewell said.
“The fact theyre working on this shows that IBM is really interested in the PowerPC, and not just the Power 4 line,” he said. “They could be looking at this as a low-cost alternative to the Power 4 in entry-level 64-bit servers.”
IBM declined to offer further details on its chip plans.
“I can only confirm that were going to be discussing a 64-bit chip at the Microprocessor Forum, and the information released by In-Stat/MDR is correct,” said Michael Loughran, a spokesman for IBMs Microeclectronics Division.
Apple representatives were not immediately available for comment.