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IBM plans 5.0GHz processor

High-end chip bucks power-saving trend

IBM plans to crank up the speed on its Power6 server chip to 5.0GHz, far higher than competing processors from Intel and Sun Microsystems.

When it ships the chip in mid-2007, IBM will target users running powerful servers with two-to-64 processors, said Brad McCredie, IBM's chief engineer for Power6. He shared details on the chip at the Fall Microprocessor Forum in San Jose, California.

By doubling the frequency of its current Power5 design, IBM is swimming against the current of recent chip designs that sacrifice frequency for power efficiency. Instead, IBM cut its power draw by making the chip more efficient, with improvements such as computing floating point decimals in hardware instead of software, he said.

Despite its high frequency, the chip will avoid overheating through its small, 65nm (nanometer) process geometry, high-bandwidth buses running as fast as 75GBps (gigabytes per second), and voltage thresholds as low as 0.8V, IBM said.

The company hopes the Power6 will help it reach new customers in commercial database and transaction processing, in addition to typical users of its Power5 chip in financial and high-performance computing such as aircraft design and car-crash simulation, McCredie said. To win that business, IBM will have to compete with chips such as Intel's 'Montecito' Itanium 2 and Sun's high-end Sparc processors.

If this chip works as promised, IBM could be successful in that effort, analysts say. IBM is one of the few remaining alternatives to Intel in the market for 'big iron' servers used in high-end jobs such as scientific computing, image processing, weather prediction and defence, said Jim Turley, principal analyst at Silicon Insider.

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