IBM will be shipping a 450-MHz version of its 64-bit PowerPC processor for its server line including RS/6000s and AS/400s by the end of the fourth quarter. The company also plans to release its S/390 mainframe products and a 550-MHz version in 2000.
Additionally, IBM will be making a desktop version of the chip with a maximum performance of 480 MHz, to be followed by a 580-MHz version.
The news of product availability was unveiled at the recent IEEE Solid States Circuit Conference (ISSCC) in San Francisco, in conjunction with the announcement of a major technology breakthrough by IBM called Silicon-on-Insulator (SOI). The server road map is based on using copper interconnects and integrating SOI into its products.
In papers presented at the ISSCC, IBM's research division showed that either performance can be increased or power usage can be reduced by changing to different materials and production methods while maintaining an existing chip design.
This year, IBM will change the aluminum interconnects on the chip to copper while allowing the basic building block of the chip to remain the same. This will let the same chip incorporate 34 million transistors, instead of 12 million.
In 2000, IBM will combine copper with SOI. SOI blankets transistors with insulation, which cuts down on electrical interference that reduces chip performance.
SOI is not a new technology. The real breakthrough for IBM is in the capability to fabricate SOI chips in volume. Previously, SOI was used in limited production for niche markets and was expensive to manufacture.
IBM already uses copper in its 32-bit processors found in Apple Computer's products. The 32-bit processors will follow the same road map and use SOI in 2000.
Also at the conference, Motorola Inc. researchers presented a technical paper that announced the future incorporation of copper into the company's PowerPC chips.
Until 1998, Motorola and IBM were jointly developing PowerPC chips for Apple.
But the relationship fell apart, according to an IBM representative, and the companies will be separately developing chips for Apple Macintosh products.