IraqiGeek's Blog

Thoughts about IBM's PowerPC

Is anybody noticing how IBMs PowerPC architecture is catching on the market? The usual market for the PowerPC (PPC) architecture was usually high end IBM servers, and those "few" Macs sold by Apple, but now the picture is changing, and we see more and more PowerPC devices coming to the market. First, take a look at the upcoming Play Station 3 Cell processor. Its based on a PPC core to power its general rocessing requirements. True that the cell processor is being advertised as as an IBM, Sony, and Toshiba, but if you look really closely you will see that IBM's contribution in the design is more or less limited to the PPC core that the Cell processor is based on. Now, if you look really close at the Cell processor project, you will see that its a win-win situation for IBM. First, the got a good amount of money from Sony and Toshiba for licensing their PPC arcitecture. Then, Sony paid IBM a nice $600M to expand their FishKill fab, which will be the main fab that manufactures the Cell processors powering the upcoming PS3. So, in the end, whether the Cell processor is a financial success for Sony and Toshiba or not, IBM is on the safe side here. They already got paid for making extra room in their fab to make the Cell, so they arent sacrificing any production capacity to make the Cell, which could have affected IBMs contracts with its other clients, and they will get a new good base of developers who will be getting their hands on developing new code targeted to the new PPC based Cell architecture, whether that is in the form of games for the PS3, or for any other devices built around the new Cell platform. Now, lets take a look at the other rival of Sony's PS3, namely Microsoft's Xbox 360, which has migrated from Intel's x86 based architecture (used for the original Xbox) to IBM's PPC architecture, and what a move that was. Microsoft convinced IBM to make them a nice custom tripple core PPC based chip running at an even nicer 3.2GHz. Its still to be seen if IBM will use that custom chip, dubbed Xenon, to make other products, namely servers and probably even some workstations, but the point is like the PS3, the Xbox 360 will too get a good deal of developers to work on the PPC architecture and write new code, new libraries, and get familiar with this nice, efficient, and often left in the shadows architecture. Finally, in the summer of 2006, we should see the debut of a new processor, a new computing platform coming from a new player in the buisness, but nevertheless based on a not so new processing architecture. Of course, I am talking about none other than PA Semi's PWRficient not so "embedded platform". I say not so embedded because while the upcoming chip does fit as an embedded platform in terms of power consumption and high level of integration, its desn't really feel like your average embedded processing platform when it comes to performance. Again, this new piece of silicon will be based on a couple of PPC cores running at a nice 2GHz clock speed, and carrying an even nicer 2MB cache. I already went into some depth about the design specifics of the PWRficient, so I wont delve into that here, other than to note the power envelope at which the upcoming chip will run. The designers estimate the chip to have a mere 13W TDP. Now just think about having one of those powering a notebook. This piece of silicon will be capable of beating the best offering from Intel, AMD, and any other company i terms of processing power and power consumption. When you consider the level of integration of the chip which translates in a highly reduced bill of components, which translates into even more savings in the price tag, and much less total power consuption from the whole device, the PWRficient gets even more attractive. The only hardle that needs to be overcome is getting a nice OS to run on top of such a notebook (actually, its not so much of a hardle if you think of Linux). It would be really nice to see a a Mac OS version targetted at the PWRficient (if his Jobliness agrees to make a "port" of the Mac OS targetted at this platform). Such a notebook could easily get 6-8hrs when paired with your average 60-70W notebook battery. Now that is what I call a true mobile platform. Another very good use of the PWRficient platform is in the blade server sement, where a large number of PWRficient based servers could be squeezed into a very small volumes thanks to the high level of integration and low power consumption figures of this chip. It wouldn't be so hard to design a rather capable server that consumes under 50W of power under full load. So, at the end of the day, we see more and more companies moving to the PowerPC platform. If this trend continues, this arcitecture may be the most serious contender to the dominance of the x86 architecture in the not so far future. Maybe Steve Jobs did have a vision that was ahead of his time back when he switched from Motorola's 680x0 to the PPC back in the 90s (or maybe not, as he is dumping PPC in favor of Intel's x86 processors now).
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