New IBM chip breaks barriers to double speed

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IBM will unveil a new processor on Tuesday that will be twice as fast as those of competitors such as Sun, Intel and AMD when it appears in 2007, according to the group.

IBM’s Power6 chip is a radical departure from the trend among microprocessor makers to produce more energy-efficient chips after their race to increase speeds created overheating problems.

IBM said it had broken through energy and heat barriers with the Power6 to achieve speeds of between 4 and 5 gigahertz – more than double the performance of the next generation of Intel’s Itanium chip, planned at less than 2GHz.

The processor will give IBM an edge in the high-end server market, operating faster in the same “power envelope” as its rivals.

Bernie Myerson, chief technology officer of IBM’s Systems and Technology group, said existing chip technology reached its physical limits four years ago in terms of doubling the number of transistors on a chip while reducing the amount of power needed to run them.

But techniques such as stretching and squeezing the silicon used, improving synchronisation at high speeds and taking a holistic approach to improving the chip architecture had enabled a breakthrough.

“There’s nobody looking at anything like this. We have a more highly integrated chip that is multi-core and we are increasing the frequency – we are turning up both knobs at once when the industry is going the other way and turning [the frequency] knob down,” Mr Myerson said.

Richard Doherty, analyst with Envisioneering, a consultancy, said IBM achieved frequencies of 6GHz in their labs.

“It’s our belief that this is going to be the fastest computing chip and family in the world for some time.

“A lot of people will be surprised by this. It will cause a lot of companies to go back to the drawing board,” he said.

IBM will make its disclosures about the Power6 at the International Solid State Circuits Conference in San Francisco.

It unveiled its revolutionary Cell processor at the same conference a year ago, which will feature in Sony’s PlayStation3 games console.

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