IBM, Motorola paths diverge for future microprocessors

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IBM has slowly and quietly moved off the Mac in the past year. Its G3 processors, which used to live on three-quarters of all Macintoshes, now only ship on iBooks. Motorola's G4 processor has gone from use only in desktop G4s to now include the iMac and the Titanium PowerBook. In terms of numbers, Motorola has locked up Apple as the company's number one supplier of processors.

To add more distance between IBM and Motorola, IBM recently announced a multi-year agreement with Toshiba and Sony to jointly develop semiconductors using IBM's latest fabrication technologies such as SOI (Silicon-On-Insulator), Low-K dielectric and copper based manufacturing. These are technologies that IBM used to share with Motorola.

"Motorola benefited from copper and SOI," IBM spokesman Michael Loughran, told MacCentral. "And our work with Sony and Toshiba is broadening that development."

Loughran said that IBM is joining its technology leadership with materials to Toshiba's leadership in fabrication and coupling these with Sony's vast semiconductor demand and consumer vision.

This seems uncannily similar to the Apple, IBM and Motorola's arrangement.

Motorola's 1GHz Apollo G4, the MPC7455, recently won Microprocessor Report's Best Embedded Processor award, beating out IBM's latest G3, the 750FX. While Motorola is shipping their 1GHz MPC7455, IBM was not even sampling their 1GHz 750FX a month ago. Loughran says that IBM has begun sampling the part now to select customers.

"The strength of the roadmap on G4 sees Motorola surpassing IBM," said Thomas Fehr, Motorola's Director of Strategic Marketing. "Where has IBM progressed, and where has Motorola Progressed since the (G3/G4) split?"

Motorola and IBM are competing more closely in the embedded space, but with each company targeting different goals. IBM is looking at power efficiency as its selling point within the embedded market, and Motorola is trying to fill the computing, networking and embedded baskets with the G4. Across the frequency spectrum, the 750FX typically consumes one-third of the power of the MPC7455. Moreover, consuming 21.3W at the 1GHz, the Motorola G4 exceeds the typical 15W requirement of an embedded device. For comparison, a 1GHz Athlon requires 53W, and an 800MHz IBM 750FX requires just 7.5W.

IBM, Apple Computer and Motorola worked together to create the PowerPC almost a decade ago. However, the three companies paths have diverged since then. Loughran says that there are no co-development activities currently between IBM and Motorola.

"We have a licensing agreement with Motorola," said Loughran. "We support PowerPC and support Motorola supporting PowerPC."

Currently, IBM and Motorola ensure compatibility between different embedded PowerPC's through the Book E collaboration. This agreement allows for the maximum flexibility for either company to adapt their processors for emerging applications while ensuring software compatibility with legacy PowerPC processors.

The Book E collaboration has not changed, but it seems to be the only collaboration that IBM and Motorola have. According to company spokespersons, neither company shares any architectural upgrades on PowerPC.

Despite the divergence between Motorola and IBM, both companies are moving forward with PowerPC, and are extremely happy to have broken the 1GHz barrier.

"IBM is happy to see PowerPC gain as it has in the last twelve months," said Loughran.

This story, "IBM, Motorola paths diverge for future microprocessors" was originally published by PCWorld.

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