IBM to promote Power processors at event

Details of Power5 chip expected to come out

IBM will provide news and an update to the business strategy behind its Power line of microprocessors at a press event in New York on Wednesday. As part of the event, the company is expected to provide details on the Power5 microprocessor that will form the basis of its next line of eServer pSeries Unix systems, code-named Squadron.

IBM is billing the event as one that will have "widespread implications for the gaming, communications and computing industry," and is promising "significant announcements and important new business strategies," according to an invitation to the event, which is being held at New York's W Hotel. IBM declined to provide further details on Wednesday's event.

Though the Power processor may be best known as the chip that drives IBM's pSeries Unix servers, IBM makes a number of different versions of the chips, including the Macintosh G5's PowerPC 970, and the company lately has begun to actively promote Power as a wide-ranging family of processors.

With Tuesday's news, IBM will be looking to position Power as more than simply a "big, monolithic enterprise processor," said Gordon Haff, an analyst with Illuminata, a Nashua, New Hampshire, research company.

"IBM has had a lot of success with Power outside of the data center, which is perhaps not as widely recognized as IBM would like it to be," he said. "They're looking to build on that success."

One item that could be on the agenda Wednesday is a next-generation microprocessor for broadband devices, code-named "Cell." In 2001, IBM, Sony Computer Entertainment and Toshiba launched a five-year, US$400 million effort to design a new processor for networked consumer devices.

Nearly 300 chip designers and computer architects from the three companies have been working on Cell at an IBM research facility in Austin, Texas, and the project is expected to begin delivering products by 2005.

Though it remains unclear whether Wednesday's event will serve as the formal launch of the Power5 processor, analysts are expecting to hear some new details on the chip.

IBM previously has stated that Power5 will be a dual-core processor that will use multithreading technology to support as many as two "virtual processors" per core, which means that as far as the operating system is concerned, it will appear to contain four processors.

At 389 square millimeters in surface area, the 276 million-transistor Power5 will be much larger than the 267 square millimeter Power4. It will also support as much as 1,024G bytes of system memory -- twice as much as the Power4 -- and is expected to be used in much larger SMP (symmetric multiprocessing) systems than are currently supported by the Power4. IBM's largest pSeries server, the p690, currently scales to as many as 32 processors. That limit is expected to double to 64 processors when the Power5 systems begin shipping.

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