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IBM debuts 64-bit chip

Big Blue says by next year it will introduce the Power3 family of 64-bit RISC chips, which could run initially at clock speeds of 500 MHz or more.

    Another day, another 64-bit chip, as IBM's (IBM) Microelectronics Division today strutted its new family of 64-bit microprocessors in front of the Microprocessor Forum '97.

    Big Blue says by next year it will introduce the Power3 family of 64-bit RISC (reduced instruction set computing) processors--which could run initially at clock speeds of 500 MHz or more--in its RS/6000 line of technical workstations.

    Technology based on 64-bit processing essentially allows a computer to handle 64 bits of data simultaneously. Currently, most desktop computers are based on a 32-bit design. IBM says the faster, more powerful 64-bit workstations will find use in applications such as online transaction processing and meteorological simulations.

    The Power3 processor will be built using IBM's recently announced "copper chip" technology to achieve clock speeds of more than 500 MHz, the company claims. IBM recently announced a way to use copper in the manufacturing of chip circuits. Copper conducts electricity better than aluminum, the metal traditionally used for microprocessors, resulting in smaller chips that run at higher speeds than older designs.

    "IBM is investing a lot of their development activities around Power in the higher-end space where they have products," says Dean McCarron, of Mercury Research. "It will be on par where Digital's Alpha processor is and where Intel intends to go in terms of clock rate. I expect you'll see much, much higher rates in the future--somewhere around 600 to 700 MHz are attainable," McCarron says."

    Another design feature that IBM says will enhance performance is the ability to handle eight instructions from a program during each clock cycle. The Power3 chip will further have larger data "pipelines" in the processor to facilitate the movement of large amounts of data from main memory to the processor. This means the processor essentially "eats" data in larger chunks and a program can "feed" more data during each clock cycle to the processor to ensure high performance.

    IBM is one of many companies talking up its upcoming 64-bit processors this week. Intel will reveal new details about Merced, which will be the first 64-bit microprocessor from the chip giant. Merced is expected to be released commercially in mid-1999. Analysts expect the chip to initially run at clock speeds of 600 MHz.

    Sun is working on its own 64-bit RISC processor running at 600 MHz next year.