RealTime IT News

Chip Vets Line Up For New PowerPC Processors

Another vehicle to the promised land of high-performance computing at lower power consumption is upon us, in pictures at least.

P.A. Semi publicly took the wraps off its new processor family Monday, following two years of stealth work on the chips.

"Our focus is on high performance per watt and high integration. We're designing a chip architecture that is very scalable, and has a wide range of performance points," Dan Dobberpuhl, P.A. Semi's founder and CEO, told internetnews.com.

He said the company's initial target for P.A. Semi's PWRficient family of multi-core processors would be the high performance embedded markets with a focus on data centers, networking, security and storage for dual-core.

Later, it plans four and eight-core systems processors for high performance computing as well as single core for peripherals and client devices.

P.A. Semi's chips will be designed by the company, but based on IBM's PowerPC instruction set under a licensing agreement with Big Blue. P.A. Semi will sub-contract manufacturing on a 65-nanometer process.

Entering the highly competitive chip industry is a bold, if not risky, undertaking. P.A. Semi still has a long way to go to even get the processors out the door, or in a wider array of computers: Samples of the first processors aren't expected to ship until next summer, and won't be performing for customers before 2007.

But P.A. Semi also has a deep bench of industry talent driving the innovations.

The Santa Clara, CA-based company's 150 employee roster includes key designers of AMD's Opteron, Intel's Itanium and Sun's UltraSPARC chipsets.

Dobberpuhl was the lead designer of the DEC Alpha series of microprocessors, the ultra power-efficient StrongARM microprocessors, and the first commercial multi-core processor with the SiByte 1250.

"Even two years out, I think what P.A. Semi brings out will be impressive because very few companies have focused on high performance and low power for less heat, and fewer still have focused on using the PowerPC architecture with all the software that's evolved for that," Nathan Brookwood, analyst with Insight64, told internetnews.com.

But too bad P.A. Semi didn't form a few years earlier, he added.

"What they are developing would have been ideal for Apple which couldn't’t persuade IBM to develop lower power chips for notebooks for longer battery life. And Motorola wasn't giving them what they wanted either either. They were caught in a situation where if they wanted to get the power characteristics they needed, they'd have to move over to x86 processors."

Apple announced plans in June to move its computers to Intel processors starting next year.

Low power is definitely a feature of PWRficient with claims the chips will range from five watts to a high of only 13 watts for high performance applications. "In all cases we expect to be at least 5x better than our competitors and 10x better than where the industry is today," said Jim Keller, vice president of engineering at P.A. Semi. "Integration is what floats the boat these days; Intel has three chips to our one. And we're glad to have them evangelizing performance per watt."

Keller said P.A. Semi also sees an opportunity in future generations of video game players. "Our low power, high performance technology is very well suited to that."

Under its agreement with IBM, P.A. Semi has licensed the rights to design, manufacture, and sell processors that fully comply with current and future versions of the Power Architecture for the development of its PWRficient processor family. While keeping its plans under wraps, the company kept tabs on PowerPC developments the past few years as a founding member of Power.org, a group dedicated to developing software and hardware for IBM's Power chip architecture.