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May 26th, 2000

[1:00 PM] IBM To Build A Faster G3 For Apple's PowerBook Line
by Wes George

IBM's PowerPC 750, more commonly known to the Mac faithful as the G3, is getting a speed lift by late summer. IBM says it plans to roll out several speed bumped versions of the chip for use in embedded applications, Internet and wireless devices and Apple's PowerBooks.

One new version of the G3 called the 750xe will race at speeds up to 700 MHz while consuming much less power than a G4 and retaining its very competitive pricing. This copper based chip is manufactured using IBM's 0.18 micron process with 256 KB of L2 cache.

According to a ZDNet News article, "The inclusion of an enhanced G3 in Apple's next notebook would come as a surprise to some Mac handicappers who have been looking ahead to a PowerBook that includes the PowerPC G4...The G4 processor features the Motorola-developed AltiVec, or Velocity Engine, extensions for enhanced multimedia performance, a feature absent from Motorola's and IBM's G3s."

The next generation of Apple's portables are likely to continue using the G3 due to power consumption issues and motherboard designs required by Motorola's demanding G4 processors. With this in mind, it is critical to Apple's business to see continued speed and efficiency advances in IBM's PowerPC 750 line.

IBM also plans to release slower versions of the PowerPC processor, some of which will use as little as 1 watt of power at 200 MHz and will cost under $25 for use in networking products such as hubs, routers and cable modems. These chips could also find embedded applications in automobiles, cell phone and even consumer appliances such as smart washer machines.

The Mac Observer Spin: While it's undoubtedly good news that IBM is committed to the Power PC line, speed bumps to the 700 MHz range doesn't bestow Apple any bragging rights. It merely means parity is going to be maintained with the Wintel cartel for a while longer. Of course, buying time is the name of the game, IBM and Motorola will develop new ways to boost PowerPC clockrates eventually. Motorola has been working on a G4 for the PowerBook, but it is not likely that these will meet Apple's specs any time soon. We are likely to see PowerBooks shipping with G3s for a long time to come.

Meanwhile, IBM's focus for the PowerPC seems to be drifting away from the desktop and portable PC market (Apple is the only company to offer PowerPC based personal computers) towards higher growth markets such as embedded applications.

Toaster ovens and cell phones don't need the expensive high-speed processors that Apple does to remain competitive. Thus, the tendency going forward is for IBM to increasingly tailor the PowerPC for low end applications while Moore's Law inexorably pushes the demands on portable computing ever higher. At some point Apple's dependence on the PowerPC 750 may put the company in a real lurch.

See the recent Apple Trader article for a more in-depth analysis of the RISC versus CISC situation.


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