A Motorola spokesperson told MacCentral that the company’s next generation G4 processor, codenamed Apollo, announced at last year’s Microprocessor Forum, “is on schedule to ship in early 2002.”
The G4s that are currently available are manufactured using Motorola’s 0.18-micron copper process (HiP6 .18-micron copper). One of the stated goals for Motorola’s Apollo part was to move the desktop G4 to a 0.18-micron SOI manufacturing process (HiP6 .18-micron SOI).
Among other design changes that will also increase performance for Apollo is the use of SOI — Silicon On Insulator — technology that will provide a twenty to thirty percent performance gain. SOI adds tiny insulators to strategic parts of the transistors that make up a processor. This insulation allows those individual transistors to operate using less energy while also generating less heat. These two improvements allow the clock speed (the MHz rating that is used on the processor) to be increased.
Apollo is set to run at “GHz+ speeds” said David Bearden, Senior Member of Technical Staff, Somerset Design Center at Motorola during Apollo’s announcement presentation at last year’s Microprocessor Forum. Motorola’s spokesperson told MacCentral that the company is committed to the G4 roadmap, but would provide no further particulars.
During the 2000 Microprocessor Forum presentation, Bearden said that the Apollo processor would have a seven stage pipeline, four AltiVec execution units, a 256-bit internal memory subsystem, a 256KB on-chip L2 cache, and support for an up to 2MB off-chip L3 cache. Apollo’s memory subsystem will support 36-bit memory addressing — allowing up to 64GB of physically addressable memory. Finally, Apollo will support either a 60x system bus or an MPX system bus.
G5 and the Mac
The automotive and communications markets are crucial to Motorola. However, Motorola’s spokesperson told MacCentral that just because the latest fabrication technologies are being introduced into these markets first does not mean that Motorola is focusing development in these areas to the detriment of the computing space. The spokesperson said that the first G4 was the first Motorola product to be manufactured using a copper manufacturing process rather than aluminum and the copper process then was implemented on many of Motorola’s other products. How and when new developments become implemented depends on when a technology becomes available, where the technology is most feasible and beneficial, and when it is convenient in the development cycle to implement it.
Motorola has already announced many G5 processor products — the MPC 8540 in the networking space, announced at this year’s Microprocessor Forum and the MPC5500 family in the automotive space, announced October 1, 2001. The MPC 8540 is one of the first G5 products to be announced and will be sampling in the first half of 2002, according to Motorola’s Microprocessor Forum presentation. None of these G5 processors have all of the necessary components to be used by Apple on the desktop.
According to Motorola’s microprocessor strategy roadmap, all fifth generation (or G5) products take advantage of Motorola’s latest fabrication technologies. The G5 generation of Motorola processors use Motorola’s seven layer 0.13-micron SOI manufacturing process. This is Motorola’s most advanced manufacturing process, and is the most important of a half-dozen or so new features that Motorola is adding to its PowerPC processors with the fifth design generation. However, Motorola’s spokesperson told MacCentral that Apollo was not able to take advantage of this process due to its earlier introduction date. The G5 products that Motorola has announced have all been announced in the past year since Apollo’s announcement.
To date, Motorola has made no G5 announcements in the computing space. The processors that Apple would need have different capabilities and performance characteristics than those in the automotive or communications spaces. Typically, Motorola will publicly announce a major new generation of processors in a core market months to a year before it ships.
Motorola declined to comment about if the Apollo processor, or when an undisclosed G5 processor, would be used on any new high-end Power Macs. However, a G5 based Power Mac in the near future seems unlikely with the Apollo processor scheduled to ship so soon at a significant performance boost. Additionally, both Motorola and IBM typically announce new computing processors publicly before their adoption by major customers like Apple. Recent examples of this practice include the 7410 G4, which was announced by Motorola shortly before the Microprocessor Forum last year and later used by Apple in the Power Mac G4, and the 750CX and CXe, both introduced by IBM at last year’s Embedded Processor Forum and later used by Apple in iMac and iBook models.