IBM to charge up Power at chip event

The company later this month heads to Manhattan to talk up its array of processors, which run devices from game systems to servers.

John G. Spooner Staff Writer, CNET News.com
John Spooner
covers the PC market, chips and automotive technology.
John G. Spooner
3 min read
IBM is planning to unfold the road map for its Power processor, the first public update in some time.

The company's chip group, responsible for IBM PowerPC and Power server processors, has scheduled a March 31 event at the posh W Hotel in Manhattan to discuss the chips.

IBM executives are expected to talk about a range of Power processors and possibly IBM's chip manufacturing efforts, to help spread the word about the family of processors.

Forthcoming chips, such as the Power 5 and the Cell processor--the joint processor architecture development effort from IBM, Sony and Toshiba--are likely to become topics of discussion, analysts said. New information on some of IBM's existing PowerPC processors may be disclosed as well.

IBM declined to comment on the details of the event.

The company makes regular announcements about its chips, such as the Power PC 970. But competitors such as Motorola or technology rivals such as Intel have comparatively spent more time marketing their chips. Intel and Motorola host regular developer forums, for example, which they use to disseminate information about their processors to the electronics industry and the media.

IBM recently made a number of changes in its chip business, including launching new processors, establishing a chip foundry business and combining its Microelectronics and Server groups into a new Systems and Technology Group. Analysts say this may be part of a strategy to make people more aware of the Power family of chips.

"I think they're going to talk about the whole road map...filling in the gaps between Power 5 at one end and Cell at the other," said Richard Doherty, an analyst at The Envisioneering Group.

Gaming and more
The Power5 processor is the company's next generation of high-end server chips, while the Cell chip is being developed in part for video games. It also offers three main PowerPC families, including the PowerPC 400, the PowerPC 700 and the PowerPC 900.

Chips from the three families are in a huge variety of devices, ranging from game systems to computer servers and networking gear.

Nintendo uses a custom PowerPC processor in its Game Cube system, for example. And Apple Computer uses the PowerPC 970 in a number of Macintosh desktops and its Xserve server. Apple has incorporated the latest version of the PowerPC chip, the 2GHz Power PC 970FX, into its Xserve G5.

Indeed, "IBM has a lot to be proud of. It has a good business in the embedded space. It has a very good business in the server market, and it has a lot of opportunities in the Microsoft and Cell space," said Peter Glaskowsky, editor-in-chief of the Microprocessor Report.

IBM could also discuss its work in video games.

IBM has a unique position in the game market. It has agreements to supply processors to the world's three largest video game console manufacturers, including Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony. Most recently, it inked an agreement to supply PowerPC chips to Microsoft for the next Xbox console. It has been working under its much publicized Cell joint venture with Sony and Toshiba since early 2001.

Cell will be used for more than video game systems, however. IBM and Sony have indicated that they intend to apply it to a much broader set of devices, including handhelds and home networking gear.

IBM may also use the event to take a few jabs at the competition. It may discuss its outlook on Power 4 and Power 5 chips and how they stack up against processors such as Intel's Itanium server chip, for example.