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IBM Opens Up Power Processor Design

It's shifting the focus of much of its processor design strategy from the chips to the creation of tightly integrated, high-performance architectures for specific industries and consumer applications.

With microchip technology reaching its physical limits, IBM says it's shifting the focus of much of its processor-design strategy from the chips themselves to the creation of tightly integrated, high-performance architectures for specific industries and consumer applications, company officials said during a series of announcements Wednesday in New York.

To that end, IBM is working with a range of vendors, including embedded systems maker Wind River, Linux developer Red Hat, Chartered Semiconductor, and Chinese systems developer Culturecom Holdings to build a larger development community around its Power technology. Furthering that, the company also revealed a partnership with Sony Group under which the companies will jointly develop system-on-chip architectures for video-game consoles and other Sony consumer products.

"Transistors are getting down to the size of what they're made of," IBM chief technologist Bernard Meyerson said, indicating they can't get much smaller and that the company needs to look beyond metal and silicon atoms and toward tighter system integration to extend performance. "It's no longer about gigahertz, it's about optimization."

IBM unveiled several initiatives to drive cross-industry collaboration into its chip-design process. It's making design tools available to partners at no charge, looking at a Linux-style open-governance model to help guide the future of the Power architecture, launching a portal for developers of Power-based systems, and releasing a free evaluation kit that lets system designers create custom Power chips in a simulated environment. Additionally, new software will enable customers to develop Power-based custom chip and package designs. Among other things, the software will help designers solve performance delays through tighter coupling between the silicon and package design.

Also Wednesday, IBM unveiled the first blade systems available with Power processors and said it's developing a way to manufacture low-power, high-performance chips using a combination of silicon-on-insulator, strained silicon, and copper wiring technologies. The PowerPC 970FX microprocessor is the first chip to be built using a combination of all three technologies.

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