IBM Readies 1GHz Chip for AS/400, RS/6000

IBM on Monday offered the first glimpse of a new processor under development for its AS/400 and RS/6000 servers called the Power4, a test version of which has been cranked up to 1GHz in IBM's laboratories, company officials said.

The disclosure was made at the closely watched Hot Chips conference, taking place here this week at Stanford University. Sun Microsystems, Hitachi and Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) are among the other companies expected to describe advanced processors at the conference.

Since clock speed is only one determinant of server performance, IBM has also developed a complementary technology called "synchronous wave pipeline interface," which will enable bus speeds for the Power4 in excess of 500MHz, said Frank Ferraiolo, a senior IBM engineer. Bus speeds determine how fast a processor can exchange data with other parts of a system.

"The goal of the Power4 isn't just creating a high-performance processor; it's to create a high-performance server," Ferraiolo said.

IBM hopes its Power4 will be used in powerful Web servers and for running electronic commerce applications, as well as complex technical and engineering applications used by the scientific community, said Joel Tendler, a senior technical analyst with IBM's server group. IBM aims to start selling the new processor in the second half of 2001 in its AS/400 and RS/6000 servers, he said.

The Power4 incorporates two processors and a Level 2 cache on a single chip. Like the test version, the Power4 will be manufactured using copper wires, rather than the aluminum wiring used in the current Power3 chip. The Power4 will be manufactured using an advanced silicon-on-insulator (SOI) technology on a 0.18-micron process, IBM's Ferraiolo said.

IBM's 64-bit offering will compete with chips from Sun, Hewlett-Packard and Compaq Computer, all of whom are refining their own 64-bit server processors. Intel Corp. is also due to enter the fray next year with its first 64-bit processor known as Merced.

The product version of the Power4 -- as opposed to the test version described today -- will be detailed Oct. 5 at another semiconductor conference, the Microprocessor Forum, to be held in San Jose, California.

Now in its eleventh year, Hot Chips is a highly technical conference where some of the world's leading semiconductor engineers present papers on the latest advances in state-of-the-art silicon technology.

"The technology that underlies e-commerce, the Web, all the exciting things happening out there -- it all starts right here," Michael Blasgen, general chair of the conference, said in his introductory remarks.

Tomorrow, Sun is expected to offer the first detailed look at its Microprocessor Architecture for Java Computing (or MAJC, pronounced "magic"), developed for Internet appliance-like screen phones, set-top boxes, and game consoles.