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IBM unveils super-fast microprocessor

IBM Corp. said Tuesday its upcoming Power6 microprocessor for servers will run at unprecedented speeds.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Bucking a trend in the chip industry, IBM Corp. said Tuesday its upcoming Power6 microprocessor for servers will run at unprecedented speeds while keeping a lid on power requirements and heat.

For years, chip makers have improved computer performance by shrinking the size of transistors, squeezing more of them into smaller spaces and ratcheting up the speed at which they process instructions.  But recently the benefits have diminished as the chips' power requirements and temperatures have risen.

To get around the problem, the industry has resorted to building two or more computing engines known as "cores" on a single chip and throttling back the clock speed to prevent a silicon meltdown.  As a result, performance does increase — but it does not double, even with two computing cores.

IBM's upcoming Power6, which is multicore and designed for higher-end servers running the Unix operating system, was crafted from the ground up to run fast without major losses in power efficiency, said Bernard Meyerson, chief technologist of IBM's Systems and Technology Group.

"In Power6, we basically combined everything we could (throw) at it in terms of fundamental atoms and molecules all the way out to what we knew would be the software that would run on top of that system," he said.

Power6 is expected to run between 4 and 5 gigahertz.  Intel Corp.'s Itanium 2 server processor today tops out at 1.66 gigahertz.  The Pentium 4 for desktops currently reaches speeds of 3.8 gigahertz.

"Despite the speeds, it will have a lower power density than in some chips found in today's desktops," Meyerson said.

Details of the chip, which is scheduled to be available next year, were being presented at the International Solid-State Circuits Conference in San Francisco.  The conference runs through Friday.