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Latest PowerPC chips debut

Motorola and IBM introduce three PowerPC microprocessors, including two new chips and a high-speed upgrade to an existing model.

Motorola (MOT) and IBM (IBM) today Macworld saga introduced two completely redesigned PowerPC processors and a super-fast version of an existing design.

The two companies introduced a new series of 740 and 750 PowerPC processors that offer major improvements over the 603e and 604e--the current PowerPC generation--including enhancements to the way data flows inside the processor and the chip's on-board high-speed "cache" memory.

The newly designed 750 and 740 chips, which will initially be sold at clock speeds as high as 266 MHz, have a larger primary cache than the 603e predecessors (32Kb vs. 16Kb) and can have up to 1MB of "backside" secondary cache that can operate at the same speed as the processor. Cache is very high-speed memory that keeps the processor "fed" with data. Otherwise the processor would "starve" as it waited for data from the rest of the system, which is relatively slow.

Motorola and IBM also said that advancements in manufacturing processes have resulted in a PowerPC 604e chip running at clock speeds as high as 350 MHz. The PowerPC 604e is currently the processor of choice in high-end systems used for applications such as graphics and video production.

The 750 and 740 models will find use in everything from high-end desktop computers to high-volume mainstream systems, as well as notebooks, according to Motorola product manager Will Swearingen.

"They will address a wide breadth of applications," he said. "[They include] a mobile configuration that will mean not only higher performance than anything available in the Mac OS environment, but we think it will be higher than anything available in the Wintel world as well."

"Wintel" refers to the alliance between Microsoft with its Windows operating system software and Intel with its processors. (Intel is an investor in CNET: The Computer Network.)

Swearingen says that the new chips offer advantages to programmers and developers that will persuade them to make products that run on PowerPC processors.

"When you combine the fact that [developers] will have access to the latest and greatest stuff from the infrastructure with a processor that is becoming significantly faster [than Wintel chips], we are going to start to see some things that compel users to adopt the PowerPC environment," he said.

Some PC users may be compelled to switch to Macs, but not in droves, according to industry analysts.

"If you think about the combination of having a newer, better operating system and faster processors--it helps but it does not fundamentally address the key reasons why people buy Macs. It may make people who do buy Macs happier with their systems purchase...but it's not the key thing that will turn Apple around," said Peter Glaskowsky, senior analyst with MicroDesign Resources.

Vendors are expected to show their support for the new products this week at the Macworld Boston trade show.

Motorola announced last week the StarMax Pro 6000 series, which will use both the 233- and 266-MHz versions of the PowerPC 750 processor. Power Computing will be showing the PowerTower Pro systems with 275-MHz or 250-MHz versions of the PowerPC 750 processor, which is also known by the code-name Arthur. Neither the 275- nor the 250-MHz version of the PowerPC 750 has been officially made available yet, though.

Apple won't be left out at Macworld, either. The company will roll out new Power Macintosh 9600s with 300- and 350-MHz PowerPC 604e processors, as reported July 15 by CNET'S NEWS.COM.

IBM said the fastest 604e chip is priced at $995 when purchased in quantities of 1,000. The fastest 750 and 740 will sell for about $568 and $549, respectively, in similar quantities, Motorola said.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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