IBM next week will announce a new PowerPC ranging in megahertz from 700MHz to 1GHz that could shift the balance of power in the professional Mac market away from Motorola Inc. and its PowerPC G4.
eWeek has learned that Big Blue next week will introduce a new processor, code-named Sahara, that could represent the next significant jump in both megahertz and overall performance, according to sources. In addition, Sahara may match current performance advantages of the PowerPC G4s AltiVec acceleration–which Apple markets under the name Velocity Engine–due to new technology that boosts Mac software performance across the board.
IBM will reportedly announce Sahara next Wednesday, probably at the Microprocessor Forum seminar in San Jose, Calif.
Sahara will be the successor to the G3 line that powers Apples current iBook and iMac families as well as older pro Power Macs and PowerBooks, according to sources. The Sahara will debut sometime in 2002 — it is scheduled to be released in small quantities to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) for testing by the start of November — and will range in speed from 700MHz to 1GHz. However, this is no indication of when Sahara-based products might reach store shelves.
Technically, the G3 belongs to the 750 line of microprocessors developed originally by the now-defunct AIM (Apple, IBM, Motorola) alliance for use with the Mac OS.
In the past two years, the G3 has been relegated to Apples consumer and lower-priced product lines; the units targeted at professionals have been built around Motorolas G4 (PowerPC 74xx-series) processor. These feature the AltiVec co-processor, a 128-bit unit that can take instructions, usually graphics subroutines, and crunch them at a higher speed with no hit on the main processing functions. As a result, AltiVec-aware applications usually see a performance boost on G4 systems. (Apple has stated that the display engine behind Mac OS X also takes advantage of the G4s AltiVec acceleration.)
However, sources told eWeek that the Sahara chip will feature an “AltiVec-like acceleration” and not require the AltiVec co-processor in order to provide a speed boost to applications. Details were not yet available as to whether this is due to new hardware or code mapping, but sources said Saharas technology is entirely distinct from AltiVec.
Sahara will be constructed using a combination of copper and silicon-on-insulator technologies, previously seen only in a PowerPC processor made especially for Unix-based servers. A simi-lar SOI process is planned for upcoming generations of Motorola processors.
Sources also said a revised version of Sahara, called Sahara 2, will be released sometime in 2002. Although details are scarce, Sahara 2 will be moved from Saharas CMOS 8 (0.18 micron) to CMOS 9 (0.13-micron) fabricating technology.
Sahara will also be marketed by IBM for use as a very high-end embedded chip; sources indicate that companies such as Epson, Kyocera and Nokia, in addition to Apple, have placed preliminary orders for models of the processor.
IBM representatives were unavailable for comment.
Additional reporting for this article was done by John Dodge and Matthew Rothenberg, of the Ziff Davis News Service.