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History repeated as Apple slams CPU supplier

G4... G5... Groundhog Day?

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In 1999 Apple complained that its chip supplier wasn't able to supply enough CPUs, forcing it to delay the introduction of a 500MHz Power Mac G4. Then, the supplier in question was Motorola.

Yesterday, Apple made much the same complaint about its other chip supplier, IBM, claiming that its decision to delay the introduction of its third-generation iMac was made because Big Blue can's supply it with sufficient PowerPC 970 - aka G5 - CPUs.

The irony is that Apple began working with IBM again precisely because of the problems Motorola was having punching out G4s. Apple persuaded IBM to license Motorola's G4 design - a design, incidentally, that IBM had itself earlier rejected, leading to cooling of the relationship between the PowerPC partners - and produce the chip on Apple's behalf.

At least this time, by delaying the new iMac's introduction, Apple has avoided the embarrasing need to revise the machine's processor specs. within weeks of its launch, and its subsequent need to figure out how to pacify everyone who had pre-ordered a computer it was now unable to sell.

Apple's new partnership with IBM was further cemented while IBM continued to evolve the G3 processor family up to and beyond the gigahertz barrier, allowing Apple to push out ever faster iMac and iBook consumer computers until their eventual migration to the G4. Meanwhile, IBM had unveiled to Apple it's plan to develop a 64-bit desktop version of its Power chip, and with Motorola's own G5 project apparently canned, Apple finally had a roadmap beyond G4.

Apple's grumble about IBM neatly confirms that the upcoming iMac update will centre on a G5 processor. Which one it is, isn't clear, but the supply issue suggests it's the 90nm PowerPC 970FX, which has been causing IBM such yield problems of late. Delays in getting the 970FX out the door were blamed for Apple's need to put back availability of its Xserve G5 server. Equally, 970FX problems are said to lie behind Apple's admission that it won't be shipping a 3GHz Power Mac G5 this year, as it had last year promised.

Even the 2.5GHz model - which began shipping this week, according to some reports - needs a liquid-cooling system to cope with the heat being dissipated by the two CPUs in the box. So much for 90nm SOI reducing leakage current in the way that Intel's 90nm CPUs don't. If AMD can make 90nm yield not only faster but cooler-running processors, it will rightly gain much kudos, but its fans - fondly known as 'Athloons' - have no cause to get cocky yet.

Back to Apple. While we're glad it never decided to embrace the other and switch from PowerPC to x86 - particularly since PowerPC offers a more mature, compatible approach to 64-bit computing: make it native and make it operate interoperable with 32-bit - it has left the company relying on single suppliers. Motorola - or Freescale as we should now call it - seems no more likely to embrace the G5 that IBM originally supported the G4. We suspect we haven't just witnessed the last time Apple complains publicly about its main processor provider. ®

Related stories

2004...

Apple to ship next-gen iMac in September
Apple: no 3GHz G5 'any time soon'
Apple launches liquid-cooled G5 Mac
Apple rebuked over G5 speed-lead claim - again
IBM's PowerPC 975 - verified or vapour?
Apple delays dualie Xserve G5 to April

...and 1999

Motorola's G4 Apollo augurs 1GHz Macs
Motorola slammed with PPC G4 supply limitation allegations
Motorola's 500MHz G4 yields very low indeed claim sources
Big Blue backs PowerPC G4 with production deal
Apple downgrades Power Mac CPUs but not their prices
Apple hit by 'PowerPC G4 can't reach 500MHz' bug

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