Its the end of the PowerPC as we know it. But most everyone feels fine.
Just one day after Apple Computer Inc. said it would shift from IBM PowerPC to Intel Corp. Pentium chips, delivering what some might see as a huge blow to IBM, its business as usual in East Fishkill, N.Y., the de facto headquarters of Big Blues chip group.
Although IBM, Apple and Motorola Inc. all once worked together to create the PowerPC, its now quite clear that the companies have gone their separate ways, following Apples revelation on Monday that it will build Intel processor Macs, starting in 2006.
For its part, Apple says that even though it will offer PowerPC-based Macs for some time, it needed more power-efficient chips and Intel was the logical choice to get them, despite the difficulties of porting software.
IBMs PowerPC chip roadmap will no longer meet Apples needs for power efficiency in the future, Apple CEO Steve Jobs said Monday.
Although it might have raised questions in some peoples minds about IBMs chip plans, Apples decision has been a long time coming.
The company, which maintained a secret x86 backup plan for several years, essentially reacted to decisions IBM made to focus its efforts elsewhere, analysts said.
IBM is steeped in a new strategy of pushing custom chip design and manufacturing and services, as well as efforts to make its Power chip architecture more open.
Motorolas chip group, now Freescale Semiconductor Inc., is spending the bulk of its time pursuing networking, automotive and other markets, analysts said.
“IBM is aggressively moving the Power Architecture beyond the PC, as shown by our recent successes with the next-generation gaming systems announced by Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo,” IBM said in a statement provided via e-mail to eWEEK.com.
“IBM is focused on the highest value opportunities in each marketplace, and our direction with the Power Architecture is consistent with that strategy.”
Despite parting ways with Apple, IBMs chip business appears intact, analysts said. However, the same cannot be said for the PowerPC chip itself.
“This is the end of an era; when they got together [to create PowerPC], it was on Apples behest,” said Kevin Krewell, editor-in-chief of the Microprocessor Report.
“Now the whole reason for the PowerPC to be is no longer—it was Apple—that [decision] brings this to a close.”
Possible Changes in the
While the PowerPC will live on at both IBM and Freescale, it may not look the same in a few years, as Freescale continues to pursue markets such as networking and IBM continues to develop new chips such as its Cell processor, Krewell said.
“Now there isnt really any reason for IBM to put more development work into the PowerPC 970 family,” he said.
“Its going to put a lot more effort, right now, into Cell, game boxes and the big [IBM Power chip-based] servers. From that point of view, really interesting new developments on the PowerPC may be winding down.”
From its point of view, IBM is executing on a plan it rolled out nearly three years ago in early 2002, not long after CEO Sam Palmisano took office.
Over a series of months, IBM refocused its money-losing chip efforts on working with customers to design and build their chips, for which it would receive fees.
The group moved to create a custom chip design house and to offer others chip manufacturing services, in addition to making Power chips for its servers as well as PowerPC chips for other devices at its then-new multibillion-dollar plant in East Fishkill, N.Y.
At that time, IBM also began laying the groundwork to open up its Power processor architecture and license its PowerPC technology more freely.
The company envisions that its efforts to create a virtual Power chip bazaar will encourage more choose the PowerPC chip, combine it with some of their own bits, and turn to IBM for help in designing or manufacturing it.
IBM has been able to win new business with design and manufacturing partnership approach.
It has agreements to supply chips to the worlds three largest video game console makers, including Nintendo Corp., Sony Corp. and Microsoft Corp.
Its working with Sony and Toshiba Corp. on Cell, a new chip it announced earlier this year.
Sony will use Cell in its PlayStation 3, for example.
IBM is also seeking out additional homes for the chip in devices such as workstations.
At the same time, IBM will provide PowerPC chips for the upcoming Microsoft Xbox 360 and Nintendos Revolution game consoles.
When combined, the game systems should more than make up for lost Apple business.
Apple shipped about 2.1 million Macs during the first two quarters of its fiscal 2005, according to its financial statements.
The challenge will be “what do they do with the design services after all the game platforms are done next year?” Krewell asked.
“Theyre looking for new design opportunities for Cell, right now. Theyre looking for companies who want to contract with them to design custom systems.”
The strategy could work out as most chip “makers” are actually so-called “fabless” companies, who design a semiconductor and ship the actual instructions for making the chip to a partner.
Some of the largest include Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. and Chartered Semiconductor, two Taiwan-based foundries that manufacture networking, graphics and general-purpose semiconductors for companies like ATI Technologies Inc.
Before TSMC and Chartered rose to prominence, IBM was seen as the premier merchant foundry, and reportedly charged a premium for its services.
IBM manufactured chips for Cyrix Semiconductor, for one. Now its attempting to do more of the same.