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IBM readies fastest PowerPC chip

A 300-MHz version of the PowerPC will set the stage for Apple to unveil high-end G3 systems.

IBM (IBM) is preparing its fastest PowerPC processor yet, a 300-MHz chip, while even faster processors are being demonstrated at industry shows.

On Monday, IBM is expected to introduce the latest speed upgrade to the PowerPC 750 line of processors, used mainly in systems from Apple Computer (AAPL), sources said. The fastest G3 system currently shipped by Apple uses a 266-MHz PowerPC 750.

Motorola (MOT) today already formally introduced its 300-MHz PowerPC 750 microprocessor, saying that the chip has a suggested list price of $495 in quantities of 1,000. The PowerPC 750 is the successor to the PowerPC 604e, a chip found in high-performance desktop computers.

Even faster 400-MHz Power Macintosh systems based on IBM's "copper chip" technology will be demonstrated at next week's Seybold Seminars publishing trade show during a keynote speech by Apple interim CEO Steve Jobs, according to sources.

Chips made with copper conduct electricity better than aluminum, the metal traditionally used for microprocessors, and allows the chip size to be reduced. Eventually, IBM will be able to make processors with speeds of up to 1,000 MHz (1 GHz) using the copper process.

IBM declined to comment.

Also next week, Apple will roll out a Power Macintosh G3 system using the 300-MHz chip, sources at a major reseller said. This chip will offer twice as much high-speed "cache" memory attached directly to the processor, in order to offer further performance increases over the 275-MHz processor.

The high-end system will come with two 4GB high-performance hard disk drives and 128MB of memory. The new system is expected to be priced at around $4,800.

The company is also expected to introduce a 15.1-inch flat panel display that weighs in at a svelte 12 pounds. It will be priced at $1,999.

Apple could not be reached for comment.

In related news, Apple is bolstering its retail presence at Fry's Electronics, a popular chain of electronics superstores based in California. Tomorrow, the companies will dedicate Fry's first Apple "store-within-a-store" environment at Fry's Sunnyvale location.

Apple first unveiled the retail initiative at CompUSA. Increased floor space dedicated to Apple products and Apple-trained staff have helped boost sales there, the computer maker has said.