IBM, Freescale Map Future Of Power Processor After Apple

The two vendors ships tens of millions of the chips a year and say business will improve now that they don't have to devote resources to slow-selling Apple PCs.

Darrell Dunn, Contributor

February 6, 2006

4 Min Read

The Power processor architecture soon will disappear forever from its original segment within the PC market, as Apple Computer shifts to Intel's x86 chips. But Power remains healthy, with tens of millions of units shipping each year into wide variety of applications. IBM and Freescale Semiconductor on Monday pledged to continue to promote use of Power and provide future compatibility between their product lines.

IBM and Freescale will no longer need to dedicate resources to develop Power as a PC processor, and now can concentrate on more successful and strategic end markets. That's a good thing, executives from IBM and Freescale said during a news conference on Monday.

Acknowledging that the loss of Apple as a customer could be a "short term" public relations setback for the Power architecture due to the high visibility of Apple, the executives said the future of Power is now stronger than ever.

The loss of Apple "allows us to free up resources that were tied up with competing with Intel on their home turf," said Michel Mayer, chairman and CEO of Freescale. "We have many segments now in front of us where both the volume and innovation are more significant [than Apple]. It was not a good utilization of our resources to continue to fight Intel. We'll let [Advanced Micro Devices Inc.] do that, and they do it well. We are selling millions and millions of Power architecture processors in many segments across the world, and [Apple] was a tiny, tiny piece of the iceberg."

IBM and Freescale specifically pledged to collaborate in developing a common instruction set architecture for future Power processors, and in developing innovations that will extend Power into a broader set of customer implementations. The companies also will share information on each other's roadmaps, work to enable Linux implementations on Power, and expand the Power ecosystem through marketing programs.

The companies have created, a community of companies they say will work together to create support for use of the Power processors in various market segments.

Although the Power architecture, originally known as the PowerPC architecture, was developed in the early '90s by IBM, and then Motorola Semiconductor, which later became Freescale, as well as Apple, as a "next-generation" RISC-based PC architecture intended to provide a challenge to the x86 architecture, the volumes for Apple and PowerPC as a PC processor never reached the levels anticipated.

IBM over the past decade has used Power successfully in its high-end server offerings. The Power processor can be found in half of the top 20 largest supercomputer installations in the world, and is currently used in the top three largest installations, said John E. Kelly III, senior VP of technology and intellectual property at IBM.

In addition, IBM's Power products have gained significant traction in the gaming market, beginning with the Nintendo GameCube in 2001 and most recently in the PlayStation3 from Sony and Microsoft's XBox 360. The Power architecture is also the basis for the multi-core Cell processor that was co-developed by IBM, Sony, and Toshiba for gaming systems.

"The gaming industry is a good proof point for the Power architecture," Kelly said. "Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft have all used the same fundamental architecture and created custom solutions with different operating systems and software stacks. We have shipped tens of millions of Power processors into the gaming industry."

Freescale over the past decade has established the Power architecture as a leading engine used in embedded applications. Freescale has shipped more than 200 million of its PowerQuicc family of processors. Major markets for Freescale's embedded Power processors include the automotive industry, where it is used in telematics, power trains, entertainments systems, and air bag deployments, as well as in communications and networking equipment such as routers and telephone switching equipment.

"We stood back and looked at what was going on with architectures in the 20th century versus what is happening in the 21st century, and it became very clear that … the computing and consumer electronics worlds are not only coming together but changing dramatically," Kelly said. "Innovation is no longer centered around the PC, and architectures need to expand out beyond that to supercomputers to automobiles. This is a major tipping point for the Power architecture."

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