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POWER7 To Ship In First Half of 2010

timothy posted more than 5 years ago | from the not-necessarily-early-2010 dept.

Upgrades 73

BBCWatcher writes "In CPU news, IBM says that its POWER7 servers will start shipping in the first half of 2010, on schedule or perhaps even a few months early if you believe Wikipedia. Moreover, upgrades from a wide variety of POWER6 models will be mere CPU swaps, with the upgraded servers keeping their same serial numbers. (Bean counters like that.) POWER7 sports up to 8 cores per die, 4 threads per core, a clock speed a Hertz or two above 4 GHz, 45 nm process manufacturing, on-chip DDR3, and up to 1,000 micropartitions per machine. IBM claims that POWER7 will offer about 256 Gflops per die and two to three times the performance per watt as POWER6. IBM wants to keep taking orders now for its POWER6 gear (duh), so its sales reps are allegedly ready and eager to deal on 6-cum-7 packages. And it looks like that cunning plan could work rather well given Sun's Rock CPU cancellation and HP's delay of Tukwila Itanium to 2010. (Is anybody still in the server CPU race except IBM, Intel, and maybe AMD?) In 2006, POWER7 won the contest for a DARPA supercomputing R&D grant of $244 million, so you could say that each US citizen is in for about a dollar already."

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Fut ist gut, wenn stinken tut. (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28785767)

Fut ist gut, wenn stinken tut.
Fut besser, wenn gresser!

first post ships now!!! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28785771)

just as soon as you finish sucking my cock.

Monolith (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28785781)

Ah, so these are what will run the monoliths.

so, if Apple... (3, Interesting)

Ralph Spoilsport (673134) | more than 5 years ago | (#28785851)

had stayed with IBM, where would they be today?

Re:so, if Apple... (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28785879)

They would still be an online music store.

Re:so, if Apple... (4, Informative)

cabjf (710106) | more than 5 years ago | (#28785929)

Given how important laptop sales are to Apple, they would still be facing a losing proposition where IBM just isn't focused on the type of processors needed for mobile applications.

Re:so, if Apple... (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28788253)

Right, but that is because IBM had decided to g leave this market to PAsemi and its extremely power efficient chips (the 65 nm design needs more or less the same power as an Atom, but gives the performance of a Core Duo, not Core2 however). In its performance range, nothing still matches PAsemi's PA6T, despite the fact that it is one generation behind in process technology.

Ok, Apple bought PAsemi, what will come out of it is anyone's guess (and I don't believe a world class processor design team is only working gluing together ARM cores and peripherals on the same die for iPods and iPhones) .

About the G4, they were completely hampered by their FSB which was running at half the speed of the memory in the latest PPC based notebooks. A lower clocked MPC8610
runs about 3 times faster at 1GHz than a 1.67GHz G4 (but has an integrated dual channel DDR2 memory controller).

As somebody completely allergic to the x86 monoculture/monopoly, I'm going to buy an ARM netbook in the last quarter.

Re:so, if Apple... (1)

cabjf (710106) | more than 5 years ago | (#28794011)

That still misses the laptop range though. So IBM has the server market and PASemi has the ultra-power efficient end of the mobile market. That still leaves a gaping whole where Apple puts their laptops. If they're still keeping the Mac OS X code base working on different platforms though (as they were before the Intel switch), it probably wouldn't be too hard to create devices above the iPhone but below the Macbook and Macbook Air based on Power chip designs from PASemi.

Re:so, if Apple... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28789917)


IBM is working closely with ARM to counter attack Intel

Re:so, if Apple... (0, Flamebait)

moon3 (1530265) | more than 5 years ago | (#28785935)

Microsoft taped POWER with Xbox360 and they have the most powerful console on the market (sorry PS3 fanboys, this is true, ask developers not marketing).

Re:so, if Apple... (1)

CannonballHead (842625) | more than 5 years ago | (#28785971)

Is there a digitized version of the recording? I don't have a tape player but I'd love to see POWER! ;)

Re:so, if Apple... (1, Informative)

oracleofbargth (16602) | more than 5 years ago | (#28786205)

Microsoft taped POWER with Xbox360 and they have the most powerful console on the market (sorry PS3 fanboys, this is true, ask developers not marketing).

I think you need to study up on your processors a little more. From Wikipedia:

The cores of the [X-Box 360's] Xenon processor were developed using a slightly-modified version of the PlayStation 3's Cell Processor PPE architecture

Soooo, if they're both using basically the same CPU, the only difference comes out to what set of software you like better. (Or which set of dev tools the programmers like better.)

Re:so, if Apple... (3, Informative)

DurendalMac (736637) | more than 5 years ago | (#28786719)

That's pure bullshit. Someone needs to cut that out. Both the 360 CPU and the Cell are PowerPC-based chips, but that's as far as the similarities go. The 360 has a lot more in common with the PowerPC 970 (aka G5) than it does the Cell. The Cell has a basic CPU and 8 additional specialized processing units. The 360 has a triple core PowerPC variant. Not even close.

Re:so, if Apple... (3, Informative)

imgod2u (812837) | more than 5 years ago | (#28787231)

While true, the vast majority of the reason developers say the 360's PPC is "faster" is that it's easier to program. In terms of theoretical flops, the CELL inside the PS3 is far more capable.

If you just strung together a bunch of code and hit "compile" on GCC, the 360 will be lightyears ahead. If you have 2-3 really good engineers writing sequences for the CELL, the vertex computational power will be far superior.

Re:so, if Apple... (2, Insightful)

robthebloke (1308483) | more than 5 years ago | (#28787927)

And that's really the problem with the cell. You need 2 or 3 good (additional) engineers to get the best out of it - and finding people good enough is not an easy task. The biggest problem however, given the current economic climate, is that most games companies are struggling to find the extra cash needed to pay their wages. Given the number of PS3's out there vs the number of Wii's and 360's in the wild, it's hard to justify that additional cost for the SKU with the least market share. The result is that the PS3 games aren't fully exploiting the hardware, and i suspect only a small handful ever will.

Re:so, if Apple... (1)

BOFHelsinki (709551) | more than 5 years ago | (#28797265)

The result is that the PS3 games aren't fully exploiting the hardware, and i suspect only a small handful ever will.

That's what they said about the PS2 though... In the end, the learning curve translated into platform longevity, with next waves of games increasingly leveraging the hardware. Who really cares if the first games tap only a fraction of the potential?

The difficulty gets exaggerated too. There is pretty good middleware available, also as FOSS. (See e.g. the CellPerformance forum at for pointers and discussion.) IBM has made a real effort with the developer support, unlike Sony was with PS2.

Re:so, if Apple... (1)

MikeFM (12491) | more than 5 years ago | (#28803737)

And nobody ever bothered to learn to program a GPU either because specialized processors don't work and are to much trouble.

Re:so, if Apple... (1)

imgod2u (812837) | more than 5 years ago | (#28837659)

Nobody ever learned to program a GPU because there is a very very nice standardized -- two of them actually -- API abstraction layer; DirectX and OpenGL. Common graphics functions that are coupled with hardware by the library.

IMO, this is exactly what IBM/Sony should be doing with the Cell -- create a standard library as well as have a staff dedicated to consulting/developing low-level functions and farm those guys out to game developers.

Re:so, if Apple... (0)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 5 years ago | (#28788911)

If you just strung together a bunch of code and hit "compile" on GCC, the 360 will be lightyears ahead. If you have 2-3 really good engineers writing sequences for the CELL, the vertex computational power will be far superior.

And if what you have to do is transform a bunch of vertices, that's going to come in really handy. For many types of workloads, the Cell is simply not adequate where the X360's triple PowerPC is. There are very few cases where the Cell dramatically outperforms Xenon.

Re:so, if Apple... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28794029)

It's not just that. Each one is good at different things.

Massively parallel, but fairly simple tasks (like graphics) are dominated by the the PS3 (if you want to design an engine that renders EVERY snowflake in a snowstorm, the PS3 is going to destroy the 360.

The 360, on the other hand, is good for modestly parallel, complex calculations.

Modern games need both, and the complex computations can't always be split into small enough chunks that the PS3 will do them well.

So, it's not that one is better than the other, but that both tend to do different things. If I want lots of eye candy (dead or alive beach volleyball 2 for example), I would want the game made on the PS3. If I wanted something with a lot of complex/smart AI and some more immersive gameplay, I would want the 360.

Re:so, if Apple... (1)

MikeFM (12491) | more than 5 years ago | (#28803777)

It was always my impression that the Cell was designed to be used with more than one CPU per system and more cores than the PS3 has enabled per CPU. Instead of investing in a whole new CPU for next gen systems it seems they intended to be able to throw more CPUs in. Tweak up the processor speed a little and compete with a lot less invested. I remember them advertising that if other appliances were on the same network and had Cell processors that your PlayStation would be able to utilize that processing power.

Re:so, if Apple... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28788327)

You're misinterpreting what the Wikipedia article says. Yes, the Xenon CPU uses PPE-style cores, but it has 3 of them vs. the single PPE in the Cell. The Cell also differs by augmenting its PPE with 8 additional SPEs. Each SPE resembles a stream processor in a video card more than it does a traditional CPU core. The Xenon doesn't have any SPEs, but the two extra PPE-style cores and the 360's more powerful GPU make up for that. So, even if the 360 and PS3 were using identical PPEs, the architecture of the CPUs and the overall consoles would still be completely different. I don't know, or care, which system is more powerful, but you would need to look at a lot more than just the PPE(s) to figure it out.

Re:so, if Apple... (2, Informative)

salimma (115327) | more than 5 years ago | (#28786273)

Doesn't matter either way to IBM, since they designed the Cell CPU as well, and it's also POWER-based.

Cell is potentially much more powerful, it's just harder to program (trust Sony to pick such designs, recall the PS2's Emotion Engine?)

Re:so, if Apple... (0, Flamebait)

Darkness404 (1287218) | more than 5 years ago | (#28786307)

...EVERY console uses Power today. The Wii uses a PPC chip, as does the 360 and PS3. The Gamecube did too, while the Xbox used basically a Pentium III and the PS2 used a custom CPU.

Re:so, if Apple... (2, Informative)

sanosuke001 (640243) | more than 5 years ago | (#28787247)

# Microsoft says the Xbox 360 can do 1 teraflops
# Sony says the PS3 can do about 2 teraflops

so, who has more power? for a real-world comparison (like you said, marketing teams suck) here's an article from tgdaily: []

developers never said the 360 has more power. they said it's easier to develop for.

Re:so, if Apple... (1)

Z80a (971949) | more than 5 years ago | (#28789031)

you know most of this number comes from the fixed logic part of the gpus of the consoles, right?

Re:so, if Apple... (1)

sanosuke001 (640243) | more than 5 years ago | (#28793529)

It specifically states "CPU" in the graph and later in the article he said he removed the GPUs because there was some confusion on the exact output of the PS3's GPU.

So, probably not.

Re:so, if Apple... (1)

yabos (719499) | more than 5 years ago | (#28790161)

And the XBox gets so damn hot it can melt solder connections on the graphics card. Sounds great for the laptops.

Re:so, if Apple... (4, Interesting)

AchilleTalon (540925) | more than 5 years ago | (#28785961)

Nobody can really tell. Apple had some requirements at its time which imposed some design decisions which made the PowerPC not evolving the same path as the Power. Apple was targetting the workstations market, while the Power 7 is targetting the servers market. These are pretty different chips and it is far to be sure the PowerPC would have become a long term winner for the workstation and the best performance for the bucks chip.

Re:so, if Apple... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28785989)

[so, if Apple] had stayed with IBM, where would they be today?

In an obscure niche where they couldn't virtualize Windows at all. They'd also have sucktastic laptops because the Power6 power requirements are so high. The Macbook Air would be a flop as nothing came close to the Atom processor. They wouldn't have had the finances to release the iPod as soon as they did and we'd still probably just be getting the iPhone 3g. Lastly, their products would cost 10% more.

Of course, their time would come as they'd have eventual virtualizing capability of the Wii, XBox 360, and PS3. Since OS X already runs on 3 chips as it is, there's nothing stopping them from releasing a Power7 system integrated as a gaming console.

Re:so, if Apple... (2, Informative)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 5 years ago | (#28785991)

Probably nowhere exciting. The substantial majority of Apple's PC business is laptops and all-in-ones, both applications where low power use is more important than sheer punch. The POWER7 might have good performance per watt; but, unless a miracle has occurred between POWER6 and now, it would be absolutely useless for anything smaller than a workstation(or possibly a blade, where noise isn't an issue).

It might have made the tiny minority of Mac Pro/Xserve buyers happy; but, unless Apple could have done a far better job than it ever had in interesting IBM in building custom chips for its needs, sticking with IBM would have made Apple's portables a complete joke.

Re:so, if Apple... (1)

WiiVault (1039946) | more than 5 years ago | (#28786811)

When Apple made the switch they were in the exactly the situation you describe. The G5s were still quite competitive with multicores and such. But the Powerbook/iBooks were woefully underpowered with their single G4s.

Re:so, if Apple... (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 5 years ago | (#28787067)

At least, at the time, the G4s were quite competitive in energy use terms. IIRC, P4s and Pentium Ms were both faster; but P4s had lousy battery life (and were largely responsible for the plague of two-inch thick dells that made horrible whining noises just to keep cool) while the Pentium Ms were both fast and cool, but were Intel's premium priced offering at the time. Assuming you didn't care too much about performance, a 12 inch ibook was, by a fair margin, the cheapest thin and light laptop you could get.

Had things continued down that path, it would have gotten downright humiliating. Cheap C2Ds versus contemporary equivalents of the G4 would be simply cruel.

No competitive laptop offering! (4, Informative)

FranTaylor (164577) | more than 5 years ago | (#28786237)

They would not be in the laptop market, which has overtaken the desktop market. They did the right thing.

PowerPC has nothing that can compete with Core Duo on the laptop. Not even close.

Re:No competitive laptop offering! (1)

drspliff (652992) | more than 5 years ago | (#28787133)

What would stop them from building high-end scientific/medical/video/whatever Mac Pro workstations but using Power6 chips/boards straight from IBM?

Sure it'd be pricey, but there's a niche for this kinda stuff; SGI & Sun workstations come to mind

Re:No competitive laptop offering! (2, Interesting)

SethJohnson (112166) | more than 5 years ago | (#28787397)

What would stop them from building high-end scientific/medical/video/whatever Mac Pro workstations but using Power6 chips/boards straight from IBM?

Maintaining a branch of the OS complete with drivers for a separate chip architecture is non-trivial. Undoubtedly, someone in Apple marketing has a spreadsheet that compares development & maintenance costs of each chip available (ARM, CELL, Intel, Power) with anticipated product demand. Right now the numbers don't work out.


Re:No competitive laptop offering! (1)

RyuuzakiTetsuya (195424) | more than 5 years ago | (#28787417)

OS and Software.

Apple isn't even supporting Power with 10.6.

Some other vendor's going to have to fill that role.

Re:No competitive laptop offering! (3, Insightful)

SteeldrivingJon (842919) | more than 5 years ago | (#28788851)

Sure it'd be pricey, but there's a niche for this kinda stuff; SGI & Sun workstations come to mind

You might want to look into how SGI and Sun are doing these days. Especially SGI.

Re:No competitive laptop offering! (1)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 5 years ago | (#28787413)

True, but they could have dominated the desktop and server market. And with universal binaries, they could have supported both architectures until the right power chip came along for more powerful laptops.

I also think we would have seen the lower power chips eventually if they had stayed continued with the Power chip a little longer. Walking away from it destroyed any leverage they had, so we never saw what was possible..

Re:No competitive laptop offering! (1)

robthebloke (1308483) | more than 5 years ago | (#28788049)

chicken and egg.

Apple walking away from power probably had the effect of IBM re-assessing their market, making them divert resources from the mobile chips to the server and console products. Net result: the power7 looks pretty good...

Re:No competitive laptop offering! (1)

ZosX (517789) | more than 5 years ago | (#28788085)

Something tells me that Apple may see the writing on the wall and positioned themselves to eventually become a software vendor like Microsoft. It would certainly throw the world into a whirlwind if they started offering OS X for off the shelf commodity PC hardware. They may see their position as a hardware vendor as precarious and could have been planning for a potential plummet. If their software already ran on PCs it would be a very easy switch to just stop producing hardware and go software only. I don't think the move had anything to do with laptop chips, though that certainly was a sore point at the time and something that probably tipped the scales towards x86. PPC just wasn't where it needed to be and it wasn't going to get there in time to be competitive as well. I loved the PPC chips, and they were a big reason I liked the macs back in the day, but I don't really think the switch has hurt apple in many ways and they certainly have benefited from cheaper, faster hardware and have really put an end to a great deal of the mac/pc compatibility problems. We really need more OS competition on PCs. A Linux/Windows only world really doesn't cut it. (lets not get into the bsds or solaris, no desktop penetration atm....) Blah. Running behind. Ramble on.

Re:so, if Apple... (1)

forkazoo (138186) | more than 5 years ago | (#28786249)

had stayed with IBM, where would they be today?

Probably not in the workstation market. Possibly trying to figure out a way to credibly attack the server market by competing with their supplier of server CPU's in a very awkward way. And, presumably doing a bunch of interesting things in the embedded space beyond iPod / iPhone. I'm imagining all sorts of wacky embedded PPC chips being targeted toward in-car Apple branded entertainment systems, and set top boxes, etc. The "Macintosh" would basically be dead. IBM doesn't make a chip that is suitable for a high end desktop system. None of what was announced today it suitable for the desktop market.

Re:so, if Apple... (1)

ToasterMonkey (467067) | more than 5 years ago | (#28788087)

Possibly trying to figure out a way to credibly attack the server market by competing with their supplier of server CPU's in a very awkward way.

PowerPC based Apple servers did not compete with IBM's Power Systems in any way.

Re:so, if Apple... (1)

forkazoo (138186) | more than 5 years ago | (#28788743)

PowerPC based Apple servers did not compete with IBM's Power Systems in any way.

Fair enough, but the question was where Apple would be now if they had stuck with IBM CPU's. Without a credible desktop CPU option, they'd have embedded and server CPU's, which means they'd probably be trying to figure out some use for big POWER chips. Possibly in some insane Mac Pro analogue, but much more likley that Apple would be trying to do something in the POWER Server market.

Re:so, if Apple... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28789073)

PowerPC based Apple servers did not compete with IBM's Power Systems in any way.

Only because IBM knew PPC970 was shit.

Re:so, if Apple... (1)

otis wildflower (4889) | more than 5 years ago | (#28790081)

Ah so? []

(yeah yeah, short lived system, but at least it had a funny advertisement IIRC...)

Re:so, if Apple... (1)

anarkhos (209172) | more than 5 years ago | (#28787273)

Dead, Jim.

Anyway, who says they can't make a server with these chips, or even release OS X for IBM hardware?

Look at Cell on PS3... (0, Offtopic)

HerculesMO (693085) | more than 5 years ago | (#28785885)

Was super fast, had a bunch of benefits, and at the end, nobody wants to program for it. Sure, people do it, but if you read folks like Carmack who prefer Xbox programming than PS3 simply because it's easier to program in, it makes you wonder about the utility of all this new architecture when the development tools aren't mature to support it.

That said, I'm far from a programmer so I can't make any assumptions about this -- but all I can say is I wonder how it will play out, either like Cell or like Intel. I have no idea.

Re:Look at Cell on PS3... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28786027)

Oh, great.
You posted just to inform us that you have know nothing about the subject at hand and have no ides.

Well, thanks for that! What would we do without this incredibly interesting piece of knowledge?

Re:Look at Cell on PS3... (3, Interesting)

russotto (537200) | more than 5 years ago | (#28786075)

POWER is an ordinary RISC architecture, not at all like the Cell. Programming for it isn't a problem.

Re:Look at Cell on PS3... (1)

oracleofbargth (16602) | more than 5 years ago | (#28786221)

The Cell is just a POWER4+ with some programmable vector processors tacked on.

Wrong (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28789577)

Nice try, but you're wrong. The PPU of the cell is a dual-issue, in-order chip design that was developed specifically for Cell by IBM. POWER4+ is aggressively out-of-order.

Its kind of like comparing an original Pentium with a Pentium II. The name may be similar, but the internal architectures are entirely different--Pentium had dual in-order pipelines and PPro/P2/P3 were the out-of-order predecessors of the Core and Core2 architecture.

Since IBM, Toshiba and Sony all jointly have rights to use the Cell stuff in other projects, IBM took the same in-order chip design that was used in the Cell PPU and added some extra features to it, and licensed it to Microsoft as the three Xenon CPUs that run the Xbox360. So ironically enough, the PPU of the Cell and the CPU of the Xbox360 are very similar to optimize for.

Re:Look at Cell on PS3... (1)

antifoidulus (807088) | more than 5 years ago | (#28786359)

A very similar chip is in the xbox 360, but like you said more people want to program for that machine but not the ps3. If the ps3 is hard to program a large part of the problem may very well be Sony's dev tools, not to mention simple economics. Most of the people that program games for consoles are doing it for an employer who wants to sell games and the 360 simply has a much larger install base than the ps3 does, and thus more people program for it....

Re:Look at Cell on PS3... (1)

robthebloke (1308483) | more than 5 years ago | (#28788117)

In all fairness it's not all to do with the cell, it's the more to do with the fecked up wacky ideas sony had in how that should integrate with the rest of the PS3. Not to mention the awful dev tools that shipped with it.

Re:Look at Cell on PS3... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28788633)

If you had no idea what you were talking about, then why did you write your post in the form of an analysis, rather than a question?

Your post boils down to: "Here's a bunch of stuff I made up, and I'm not qualified to say it anyway, but it _might_ be true"

Who will ship the other half? (3, Funny)

Null Perception (914562) | more than 5 years ago | (#28785951)

Who will be shipping the second half of 2010? Furthermore, shouldn't we be afraid that terrorists might try and sabotage these shipments and hold time hostage, leaving us to teeter on the precipice at 11:59 December 31, 2009?!

Re:Who will ship the other half? (1)

fbjon (692006) | more than 5 years ago | (#28786377)

I have faith that IBM will keep me safe until 11:59 AM July 2, 2010.

Price Cuts? (1)

bdrees (1015815) | more than 5 years ago | (#28786007)

IBM has not cut prices on its current Power6 and Power6+ servers, but if the upgrade guarantee doesn't grease the sales skids, that will be the next move.

Do you know what this means? (1)

Alzheimers (467217) | more than 5 years ago | (#28786343)

Here comes the DREAMCAST II

Re:Do you know what this means? (1)

robthebloke (1308483) | more than 5 years ago | (#28788139)

otherwise known as the xbox 360....

Re:Do you know what this means? (1)

HonIsCool (720634) | more than 5 years ago | (#28788221)

What does the Dreamcast have to do with an IBM processor?

Is Jeremy Clarkson (5, Funny)

skudenfaugen (808335) | more than 5 years ago | (#28786725)

...working for IBM on the side? Each time I hear about IBM's POWER whatever, all I see is Clarkson shouting in a commercial.

Re:Is Jeremy Clarkson (1)

adolf (21054) | more than 5 years ago | (#28792509)


Clarkson does commercials?

Power7 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28786975)

Ever since Apple [] , IBM, and Motorola jumped into bed together twelve years ago, tech media and Apple watchdogs especially have had a field day with speculation, rumors, and actual news regarding new PowerPC projects. Apple gave a familiar face and a flair of iconoclast to the affair while IBM lent a grave sobriety. This thing could really happen, then, someone to challenge the Microsoft/Intel duopoly. And the stories just kept coming, well into the next decade. But not all of them were so real.

So what were these projects that came and went faster than a Quad Xeon Mac? Handily enough, they're right below, broken down by project. Read on to find out what Apple, IBM, and Motorola had in store for us throughout the Nineties and what didn't make the cut. Through all the rumors, one thing was certain: AIM never had a lack of imagination, even if it didn't always end up in silicon.

Too Much Too Soon

IBM and Motorola jointly announced the 64-bit PowerPC 620 at the October '94 Microprocessor Forum nine years earlier than the Power Mac G5 and its PowerPC 970 processor. Designed for servers, the 620 supported up to 128 MB L2 cache(!) and was set to scale from 133 to 150 MHz. It eventually shipped, albeit briefly, in systems from Groupe Bull. Structurally it was nearly identical with the PowerPC 604, save for some nips and tucks and wider registers and data paths. Think of a PowerPC 604 with twice the lung capacity.

The 620's similarity to the PowerPC 604 was also its undoing. At this point in time, the 604 was clocking up, and because it was a 32-bit chip, it ran cooler and cheaper than its 64-bit brother and actually out-performed it. The PowerPC 604 was also getting upgraded to the 604e, which further blew the pants off the 620. That, plus the fact that no one really needed a 64-bit workstation at that point in time resulted in one dead-end PowerPC core. The chip supposedly reached 200 MHz with an enhanced core (the PowerPC 620e?) before the guillotine fell.

Oops, looks like we didn't need 64-bit that badly yet.

He Goes Both Ways

Talk about ambitious. In '96 sources started to talk the PowerPC 615 that ran x86 instructions natively. How it did this wasn't exactly clear: At first the chip had to boot in either PowerPC or x86 mode, then it gained the ability to run the other ISA's instructions after a five clock-cycle flush, then it decoded the instructions on the fly, and finally it was supposed to have a separate unit or co-processor that made them magic happen. On top of that it plugged into existing OverDrive sockets but also created enormous amounts of heat.

Whew, huh?

That's what Microsoft said when talking to IBM about it. The chip would need Windows NT to succeed and MS didn't think it was a good idea. With nothing else really wanting to run on it because why would you run x86 software on a chip that didn't do x86 as fast or as cheap as Intel, and who's going to use the PowerPC ISA? IBM found itself without an audience on this one. Big Blue actually taped out some test units, but they're probably collecting dust or jingling against a set of keys now. This hybrid beast wowed its engineers and no one else.

The So-Called Speed Demon

Exponential, Inc. took the PowerPC 604 design and stripped it bare in order to blast its clock speed into the stratosphere. Using BiCMOS technology that allowed for faster gate switching, the PowerPC X was slated to run at speeds of 533 MHz in late 1996 when AIM and Intel were toying with 200 MHz. Of course, Mac users ate it up: PowerPC was at least holding even with Intel's offerings and they were eager for more good news. Apple had even invested in the company, and

And then everyone woke up. The Mach V and PowerPC G3 were already hitting the marks claimed by Exponential, who had in the meantime only delivered a 410 MHz part that didn't so much run as it did that thing where you cross the street in front of a car and try to act like you're running. Yes, BiCMOS pushed the clock up but at the cost of actual performance, power usage, and price something we would see years later from Intel. The chip failed to run beyond 410 MHz and Apple decided not to use it. Exponential fell apart within the next couple years.

Whither the Motorola G5?

Like many of Motorola's other projects, what would have been the PowerPC G5 ended up a sputtering mess, leaking brain-share and focus. After the failed or postponed revisions to the G4, supposedly the "Apollo" 7460 series, things got icky between Apple and Motorola. The existing G4, the PowerpC 7400 series, was stalling out on its way up the clock ladder and Apple was fuming. Motorola simply couldn't be budged, though. The embedded space didn't need faster chips three or four times a year, so Apple had to deal.

After the messy transition from Motorola's spin-off of its semiconductor business into Freescale, the G5 probably became one of several products. Just which project, however, depends on whom you ask. It might have become the PowerQUICC III, the 8600, or even the as-yet unreleased PowerPC 8700. There's really no telling. In fact, beyond the bevy of cache, clock, and bus upgrades no one really knew what to expect of the G5. Multiple cores, HyperTransport,

Big Blue's G4

After Motorola failed to push the G4 to 1 GHz in a timely manner and repeated themselves on the way to 1.5 GHz, rumors whirled of a revved-up G3 from IBM that would pick up where Motorola had left off. Not only was this revision G3 looking at a Velocity Engine, it would have also gained a faster bus, longer pipeline, better power management, and enhanced multiprocessing as well. But around the time the VX was scheduled to debut and IBM was failing to push the clock on the G5, plans seem to have changed.

Instead of the VX, IBM ended up releasing the much more conservative 750GX, which doubled the on-chip L2 cache to 1 MB, tweaked the cache and bus, and pushed the chip clock to 1.1 GHz and the bus clock to 200 MHz. By the time IBM's PowerPC 750GX arrived in the same timeframe that the VX was expected in, it was clear that making Apple dependent on IBM, who was well into pulling their own Motorola with G5 updates, was not a wise decision and Apple stayed with the G4 for their low end until they could move to Intel.

Too bad Apple hadn't pushed for this during the 500 MHz Fiasco.


Due about a year ago, the PowerPC 350 and its purported follow-on, the 360 would have done everything except wax your back, all in a nice cool little package for portables. Rumors about the 350 said it was supposed derive from the Cell processor and run separate units of the processor across a high-speed bus that could handle up to 128 GB/s. If you think someone was smoking some serious drugs, congratulations, you're smarter than the Mac rumor sites. The 350's hype was a lot more substantial than anything IBM ever spent time working on.

What ended up materializing was... Well, nothing. There never was a portable-optimized PowerPC from IBM, nor one that was a completely new micro-architecture, nor anything on a 65nm process. In fact, it's pretty safe to say that Apple would have to have been selling five times the volume of Macs to make IBM sit up and make a new ultra high-tech core for them like this one. And since the console makers did move that many units, and we have IBM in bed with them now, it's pretty clear where R&D was looking. It wasn't at Apple or a PowerPC 350.

The PowerPC 350 was vapor, pure and simple, no matter how much the rumor sites were huffing it.

980 Ways To Keep Fooling Yourself

IBM was contracted to create four generations of microprocessors for Apple over the period of five years. Yeah right. If you believe that, I have a sentient Power Mac G6 to sell you. In the wake Steve and IBM breaking their promise to deliver a 3 GHz, rumors of the 980 began swirling. There were two main thoughts on this core: The 980 would either be an evolution of the 970 itself, or it would be a stripped-down version of the Power5 as the 970 had been of the Power4. It was supposed to debut at 2.8 - 3.2 GHz and top out at 5 GHz as well.

We'll never know, because there aren't enough online farmhands to sort through all the horse nuggets.

What is obvious is that not long after the 970 debuted IBM stopped caring about Apple's needs on the desktop. If there ever was a contract for future PowerPC cores, it ended after IBM called Steve and said We don't think 3 GHz is gonna work out. So as engineers were taken off the 970 project and put back on the Power5 bus, or moved to the Xenon or Cell teams, the 980 and its successor, the 990, became more and more imaginary until it was completely in the domain of fiction writers and Mac OS Rumors.

The End of the (PowerPC) Line

Well, here we are at the end. The end of both the rumors about PowerPC cores for Apple and the end of the PowerPC era there altogether. As one could easily notice, the failed PowerPC projects became more nebulous and shadowy as they progressed: Someone out there probably still has a PowerPC 620 system running in their closet, and Gil Amelio really did sit down at a 410 MHz X-based Power Mac for an afternoon. But the PowerPC 350 and 980 were nothing more than the fetish of an AppleInsider source. So why the change from sampling to story?

At first, when PowerPC on the desktop was something a lot of people in high places believed in, projects abounded. It was the Cambrian Explosion of silicon. A lot of designs came and went in the same time other designs got a clock-bump. As time went on, however, the desktop gave way to embedded space, variations ceased, and innovation stagnated. Almost everything else from Freescale these days, for example, is descended from the 603. IBM has taken a more aggressive approach but it took Microsoft and Sony to get them to kick it into high gear.

Now, with trumpeting the Power Architecture from the rooftops, one might wonder if a reversal is in order. PowerPC is certainly on its way to replacing MIPS as the ubiquitous load-store ISA that runs everything from your car's throttle to your favorite gaming rig to the mainframe processing all of your sales. But none of those are a return to the desktop. Try telling that to the Mac faithful, from whose breast hope springs eternal. The foggy PowerPC rumors were nothing more than wishful thinking for a bright future.

Now that Apple's with Intel, the future really is bright. So grab your shades and come along for the ride.

New powerbook? (1)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 5 years ago | (#28787357)

Cool, can we get this in a powerbook.. oh wait, Apple abandoned the future...

Re:New powerbook? (1)

4D6963 (933028) | more than 5 years ago | (#28789601)

That's no laptop CPU.

wiki (1)

arnodf (1310501) | more than 5 years ago | (#28787383)

if you believe Wikipedia

Sure we do!

Drop in replacement for P6 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28787659)

Not if you count having to plumb water into the beasts, I wonder where you put the tea-bag?

Re:Drop in replacement for P6 (1)

MikeFM (12491) | more than 5 years ago | (#28803785)

Besides, when I asked the P7 chips were way expensive on top of a server that already costs 10's of thousands of dollars.

MickeySoft (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28787723)

Why does every tech article include MickeySoft cockroaches posting lies about competitors?

I know your managers encourage you to prop-up M$FT and all; but geeezzz - enough BS!

Here's a tip - stop producing crap!

And here's a tip for Bill - quit giving money to Africans; and give it to those that you stole you ideas and code from.

Obsession with 7 (1)

shadowblaster (1565487) | more than 5 years ago | (#28791175)

Is it just me or is the tech world currently obsessed with the number 7?

Intel Core i7
IBM Power7

Re:Obsession with 7 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28791245)

Yeah, they all decided years in advance to align their product launches at 7. It's pretty cool.

Re:Obsession with 7 (1)

BOFHelsinki (709551) | more than 5 years ago | (#28797913)

In IBM's case it's logical, though.
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