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IBM launches Power chip alliance

Big Blue partnership with 14 other companies is designed to the Power processor more adaptable and widely used.

IBM has launched an alliance with 14 other companies to make Big Blue's Power processor more adaptable and widely used.

The partnership, called, will collaborate on deciding what standard features should be included in Power processors and on designing its internal data pathway so it will be easier to customize the chip for specific uses, said Lisa Su, a vice president in IBM's systems and technology group.

The partnership includes electronics giant Sony, Linux sellers Novell and Red Hat, chip engineering software firms Cadence Design Systems and Synopsys, chip manufacturer Chartered Semiconductor, computer makers Wistron, Jabil Circuit and Bull, and chip designer AMCC, IBM announced at an event Wednesday called PowerEverywhere in Beijing. The group plans to unveil its Web site Thursday.

Two prominent examples of IBM's Power family are the Power5 used in its new Unix servers and the PowerPC 970 FX used in its blade servers and Apple Computer's desktop machines and servers. Sony and Microsoft also are expected to use chips with Power technology in next-generation game consoles. Power chips also are used in various embedded computing devices and in IBM's record-setting Blue Gene/L supercomputer.

One goal of the alliance is to make Power chips used in high volumes. IBM has shipped more than 1 million PowerPC 970 chips, it said. The more widely used the Power processors are, however, the more directly they compete against the dominant x86 family such as Intel's Pentium and Advanced Micro Devices' Opteron.

Also Wednesday, IBM announced it has successfully tested chips using a new manufacturing process called immersion lithography. The "wet" technology relies on how liquids bend beams of light, enabling smaller features to be inscribed on the silicon wafers out of which processors are built.

IBM has been working to make it easier for other companies to license Power technology for their own processor designs. Furthering this direction, IBM announced Wednesday two new "synthesizable" models--the PowerPC 440S available this month and PowerPC 405S available in the first quarter of 2005--that are easier for non-IBM fabrication facilities to build. Another, the PowerPC 450 for networking equipment, is scheduled for release in 2006.