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IBM thumbs nose at heat concerns, kicks Power6 to 6GHz

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IBM has carved out a renegade path for the upcoming Power6 processor, opting to crank the chip's clock speed much higher while rivals shy away from major gigahertz boosts with their products.

The Power6 chip will run between 4GHz and 5GHz, and has been shown to hum away at 6GHz in the lab. IBM reckons that some process technology breakthroughs have allowed it to kick the frequency higher while still keeping heat and power consumption issues under control. All told, IBM claims that Power6 will be twice as fast as competing server processors from Intel, AMD and Sun Microsystems.

IBM revealed the fresh details today at a chip conference in San Francisco.

"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," Bernie Myerson, chief technology officer in IBM's systems group, told the Financial Times.

IBM claims to have made major performance gains by stretching and squeezing silicon and using insulation techniques.

Power6 fits into IBM's eCLipz (enhanced lore logic for iSeries, pSeries and z Series) project that will create a more common processor architecture for the company's vast server line. Future zSeries mainframe products will likely rely on an offshoot of the Power6.

The strength of IBM's Power4 and Power5 processors helped resurrect a Unix server line that had failed to compete with Sun during the boom times. Over the past four years, IBM has gained back large amounts of Unix server market share and demonstrated that its homemade processors can outperform rivals on a wide range of benchmarks.

Of late, however, the Power5 chip seems to be showing a bit of age. IBM has struggled to boost the chip's clock speed.

Competitors have seized on this weakness to knock IBM as best as they can and some of IBM's foes claim the company has fallen up to 18 months behind on Power6 production. Internal IBM roadmaps once showed that the chip might arrive in 2006, although a mid-2007 delivery date now looks most likely.

Most competitors have decided to keep the clock speed of their chips flat, while at the same time adding more processor cores to each chip. This method gives a chip more horsepower without increasing power consumption and heat levels at the same rate as in the past.

IBM has not provided the nitty-gritty details on how it plans to achieve the performance gains with Power6. Industry watchers will keep a close eye on IBM in the coming years to see if can really deliver on these promises.

IBM's disclosures today back up much of the information presented in Real World Technologies report published last December. ®

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