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Apple moots IBM Power 4 as G4 successor?

Expect major Cube meltdowns if it did

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Is IBM working on a version of its server-oriented Power 4 CPU - aka Gigaprocessor - tailored to Apple's motherboards? That's certainly what one Mac-oriented rumour site is claiming, citing Big Blue sources.

Likely? Well, if Apple's product strategy includes servers, it might be. Otherwise, we're not so sure. Apple has thrown its weight behind Motorola's AltiVec technology, something fellow PowerPC partner IBM rejected as surplus to its requirements.

AltiVec is about handling fast moving streams of data, the kind of thing Digital Signal Processors do all the time, and Motorola's motivation for developing the technology was to allow it to target the DSP market with its CPUs. Apple's interest lies in AltiVec's ability to process and accelerate multimedia and graphics data, which is why MacOS X will use AltiVec to the full.

IBM, with its interest in the server market, felt that AltiVec wasn't suitable for its server oriented processor. Servers, after all, tend not to do too much vector processing, and IBM naturally want to optimise the Power family for the tasks that servers will perform.

IBM could argue that Power 4's dual-core architecture, and 1GHz and up operation can offer sufficient raw power to negate the need for AltiVec, but given Apple's keenness on the Motorola technology, we doubt that would be enough to persuade it to switch to the chip, particularly with the 'G4 Plus' chip in the works over at Motorola. G4 Plus offers multiple AltiVec units, just waiting to power all those tedious Aqua user interface fripperies.

Then there are the very big differences between server systems and desktop machines, and given the amount of heat the Power 4 will generate couple with the noise of the umpteen heat-dissipating fans the chip's going to require, it's hardly the ideal candidate for Apple's 'minimal noise' strategy.

Apple might be interested in Power 4 if it's got an eye on the server market. That's a very big 'if' indeed. Apple is almost entirely perceived as a desktop brand, not as a serious server provider. True, it sells servers into the Mac workgroup arena, but since these are just regular Power Macs with more RAM and bigger hard drives, that's no big deal. Buying in a fresh, dedicated CPU for such a small market is unlikely to make financial sense, and Apple really isn't ready to start taking on Sun, Dell, IBM, Compaq, Hewlett-Packard et al in the Net server biz.

That's not to say Apple isn't nosing around IBM as a way of putting pressure on Motorola. IBM is already churning out PowerPC 7400 chips (aka G4) for Apple, along with the previous generation of PowerPC 750 chips (aka G3). ®

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