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IBM Chip May Give Macs More Muscle

Apple Computer is expected to switch some products to the new high-performance PowerPC 970.

October 14, 2002|From Times Wire Services

IBM Corp. today is expected to announce a microchip for personal computers that will crunch data in chunks twice as big as the current standard and is expected by industry watchers to be used by Apple Computer Inc.

A spokesman for Cupertino-based Apple was not available to comment, and an IBM spokesman declined to comment on which PC makers would use the chip. But the chip would mark a change for the industry, which has emphasized the importance of the speed of a chip rather than its ability to handle heavy workloads.

Apple has used Motorola Inc.'s microprocessors in most of its Macintosh computers since 1984.

Apple, IBM and Motorola declined to comment on the switch, which has been rumored as the processors in Macintosh computers have trailed Windows-based counterparts in clock speed.

In its marketing, Apple has stressed that megahertz and gigahertz do not necessarily indicate a machine's performance. Still, the fastest Motorola processor for the Mac, the G4, runs at 1.25 gigahertz; Intel Corp.'s fastest Pentium 4 chip runs at 2.8 gigahertz.

It was not immediately known in which products Apple would use the new IBM PowerPC 970 chip or whether they would become the foundation of a new system. Besides its professional Macs, Apple sells single-processor iMacs and xServe servers.

The PowerPC 970 can run software optimized for both 32-bit and 64-bit environments without emulation. That's a similar strategy to Advanced Micro Devices Inc.'s 64-bit processors for desktops and servers to be released next year.

Critics -- notably Intel -- argue that most desktop users have no need for 64-bit processing. In fact, Microsoft Corp. has yet to release a 64-bit version of Windows that will run on AMD's Hammer chips.

The new IBM chip is derived from the Power4 microprocessor that powers the computer giant's high-end Regatta servers. When available by the middle of next year, it will range in speeds from 1.6 gigahertz to 1.8 GHz.

Chekib Akrout, vice president of microprocessor development at IBM Microelectronics, said the PowerPC 970 would at first have plenty of applications in low-end servers and uses in high-end desktops in the future.

Apple, IBM and Motorola jointly developed early-generation PowerPC chips under a 1991 agreement. That partnership dissolved in 1998.

But Motorola and IBM continued to develop the processor. All of Apple's desktops are based on Motorola's 32-bit G4 PowerPC. Apple's iBook laptops are built with IBM's G3 PowerPC processors.

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