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IBM joins the 1,000-MHz club

IBM unveils a 1,000-MHz PowerPC chip and will describe the first concrete plans for a copper-based microprocessor.

IBM (IBM) unveiled a 1,000-MHz PowerPC microprocessor, and tomorrow will describe the first concrete plans
IBM 1,000-MHz processor
An IBM engineer shows off a 1,000-MHz processor wafer.
for a copper-based microprocessor, a shift in chipmaking technology that many believe will keep the industry on track to achieve further giant leaps in performance.

IBM's plans for the 64-bit 1,000-MHz PowerPC will be sketched out at the International Solid State Circuits Conference in San Francisco, which will take place from February 5 through February 7. The fastest IBM chip today runs at 350 MHz.

The company will also detail plans for a 500-MHz PowerPC 750 processor using so-called copper technology. In September, IBM announced that it had achieved a major breakthrough in semiconductor design by using copper instead of aluminum as the interconnect material for circuits in a chip.

Copper conducts electricity better than aluminum, the metal traditionally used for microprocessors, and is seen as an essential technology for reducing chip size and increasing performance.

A number of companies have said they will use IBM's copper technology in ASIC chips, but this is the first time IBM will detail how copper technology will be incorporated into a desktop microprocessor. The PowerPC 750 is currently used in Apple Computer's (AAPL) Power Macintosh computers.

IBM executives have said that copper microprocessors will first be featured in RS/6000 servers, in all likelihood before the end of the year. The chips would probably be available for use in desktop computers shortly thereafter.

IBM's 1,000-MHz chip announcement follows Digital Equipment's (DEC) discussion of plans for a new version of its 64-bit Alpha processor that will break the 1,000-MHz barrier by the year 2000, a goal which may put Digital's chip and Intel's upcoming Merced processor on a collision course.

IBM's prototype 1,000-MHz chip was manufactured at a New York plant under today's leading-edge 0.25 micron process. By contrast, the Alpha and Merced chips will have to be manufactured under the next-generation 0.18 micron process to reach 1,000 MHz. Merced is due out in 1999.

Among other presentations at the conference, AMD will detail plans for a 100-MHz "bus," or data path, for K6 processors. This faster bus increases the speed at which the K6 talks to other components in a computer.

Intel, meanwhile, will discuss a 450-MHz Pentium II processor. Intel has previously announced plans to ship a 450-MHz processor by the end of 1998. Currently, the fastest Pentium II on the market runs at 333-MHz.