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IBM copper chip powers Apple's new iBook

Big Blue is supplying Apple with a special PowerPC chip for its new iBook laptop, indicating that IBM is still interested in the mainstream processor market.

IBM is supplying Apple with a special PowerPC chip for its new iBook consumer portable, indicating that Big Blue is still interested in the mainstream processor market.

The new iBook laptop uses a specially designed low-power copper chip from IBM to achieve its "all-day" battery life that Apple Computer interim chief executive Steve Jobs described when he introduced the product at the Macworld conference yesterday in New York.

The 300-MHz chip is an "optimized" version of the PowerPC 750 processor, according to sources familiar with the iBook's internal hardware. The chip's circuit "interconnects" are based on copper, a technology that IBM has used in its 32-bit processors since the fall of last year.

Though it is not a great surprise that Big Blue is providing this chip to Apple--considering the history it has as a supplier to Apple--IBM engineers and marketing executives had indicated at the beginning of this year that the firm would concentrate more on its 64-bit PowerPC processors for its internal server computers, including the AS/400 and RS/6000 lines. As a result, Motorola would be the torchbearer for the mainstream PowerPC chip market.

Motorola said recently that it plans to ship the G4 PowerPC chip--a successor to the current G3--later this year. IBM has not said what its plans are for this chip line. So far, IBM executives have said little officially beyond a demonstration of a 580-MHz 32-bit Power PC chip.

But IBM is now showing serious commitment to a potentially high-volume iBook market that could reach millions of units over the next several years.

[IBM] is committed to an aggressive, high-volume product. Where there's an opportunity, [IBM] will take advantage of it," said one source familiar with IBM's plans.

Analysts also see big potential in the market.

"I'll bet that there is money in it. Also, it seems that the copper process is well-suited to this application, which has nice high volumes and better value as performance and [production] yield grows," said Martin Reynolds, an analyst at GartnerGroup Dataquest.

IBM expects PowerPC chips running at 1 GHz (1,000 MHz) to be shipping in samples in 2000 and in computers in early 2001. These are targeted at its RS/6000 line of workstations and servers.