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Big Blue lights fire under new chips

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March 30, 2001 4:05:14 PM

Big Blue lights fire under new chips

By John G. Spooner
ZDNet News
March 29, 2001 1:20 PM PT

IBM Microelectronics is hitting the road with its new spin on silicon for making faster computer chips.
The IBM chipmaking division is working to popularize its relatively new silicon-on-insulator (SOI) chipmaking technology, both through licensing and manufacturing agreements as well as by using it in its own chips.

Wide adoption of SOI technology, used to increase performance or lower the power consumption of a processor, would be a point of pride for IBM as it would prove detractors of the technology wrong. At the same time, licensing fees and contract manufacturing would help boost IBM Microelectronics' bottom line.

To date, IBM Microelectronics has only one public SOI licensee, a joint venture between IBM (NYSE: IBM), Sony and Toshiba, that will create Cell, a new Internet access chip. But executives say the company has others waiting in the wings.

One SOI adopter could be Advanced Micro Devices. An AMD (NYSE: AMD) spokesman confirmed that IBM and AMD entered into an agreement for IBM to provide design assistance with forthcoming AMD chips that will use SOI.

IBM has also been hired to manufacture Alpha processors for Compaq Computer and PA RISC chips for Hewlett-Packard, both using its SOI technology.

The company has already shipped high-end p680 Unix servers containing PowerPC chips using SOI. A company spokesman said IBM will begin releasing SOI over its remaining PowerPC, SRAM and custom ASIC product lines, starting in the third quarter of this year.

The SOI chipmaking method places an insulator between the transistor and the bed of silicon upon which it rests. The insulator helps reduce the amount of electrical energy absorbed from the transistor, making for a stronger signal between transistors.

When compared to a similar chip at the same clock speed, an SOI equipped chip can offer either increased performance or reduced power consumption. IBM says the method can boost performance by up to 30 percent or cut power consumption by more than half.

Because of its properties, IBM sees SOI as having particular benefits for chips used in servers and low-power handheld computers.

"We're getting a lot of demands from a lot of sides, including dense server configurations," said Bijan Davari, vice president of technology and emerging products for IBM Microelectronics. "Anywhere you have significant power constraints or the need for performance and battery life, SOI is becoming very attractive."

Low-power chipmaker Transmeta would be another obvious target for SOI.

"Transmeta, we have talked to them...and there are other server companies that are using our SOI for high performance applications," Davari said, declining to offer further details.

If there's a downside to SOI, it's the costs of the process. IBM says its method, which uses a layer of oxide between the transistor and silicon substrate, adds only about 10 percent to the cost of a finished wafer, before it is divided into individual chips.

"If you consider the cost of cooling technology, then SOI more than compensates," Davari said.

But for chipmakers dealing with already thin profit margins, even a modest increase in cost may be prohibitive against using SOI in high-volume chip manufacturing, such as mainstream desktop PC processors, analysts say.

"No doubt about it, take any bulk silicon-based circuit and convert it to SOI and there will be a performance gain," wrote Dan Hutcheson, president of LSI research, in a series of reports on SOI technology. "The real issues lie in whether the performance benefits are enough to outweigh the design hassles and the additional cost. This question can only be answered by first looking at the manufacturing prowess of the companies involved as well as the markets they engage in."

Intel says SOI is still too expensive. A spokesman argued that even a small amount of extra cost, multiplied by the 100 million or so chips Intel produces per year, makes SOI's cost prohibitive.

Intel (Nasdaq: INTC) has conducted research into SOI, and "what we came up with is that there is some performance increase," spokesman Manny Vara said. "The issue we have is that it adds complexity and cost. Therefore, for us, it makes no sense...because any performance increases would be negated by the added cost and complexity."

Analysts say it's unlikely SOI will show up in mainstream processors any time soon.

Hutcheson noted that IBM focuses on low-volume, high-performance custom chips, while Intel pumps out mainstream microprocessors by the bucket. "Thus, SOI makes much more sense for IBM than it does for Intel today," Hutcheson said in his SOI report.

"This is why (Intel) never implements a technology until it is ready for prime time," he wrote. "If and when SOI makes sense in volume manufacturing, you can bet Intel will be there.

"The key company to watch for in this transition is AMD," he continued. "They are also a high-volume manufacturer; they don't have to implement across multiple (factories) and they are particularly good at wringing the most out of new technologies."

AMD has announced that SOI will be incorporated in its Hammer family of processors, starting with the desktop-oriented ClawHammer, which will replace the current Athlon. AMD plans to provide ClawHammer samples to PC makers late this year. The company plans to ship it in volume in the first quarter of 2002.

Motorola is also targeting SOI for its next-generation G4 chip, code-named Apollo.

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Now, the end of the article says SOI will be introduced in the Hammer processors, yet we've all been reading that Palomino is manufactured with SOI... What's the real deal? Anyone have any other articles with more information?

"We put the <i>fun</i> back into fundamentalist dogma!"
March 30, 2001 4:24:02 PM

Quote:
Now, the end of the article says SOI will be introduced in the Hammer processors, yet we've all been reading that Palomino is manufactured with SOI... What's the real deal? Anyone have any other articles with more information

The Palomino is rumored to use 'isotopically pure silicon'. I think you are confusing that with SOI.
March 30, 2001 6:24:00 PM

Apple plans on showing off new 1ghz G4 with SOI at WWDC 2001. Next macs will be around 1Ghz, 133FSB, firewire2, geforce3, unibutton mouse is gone, mouse wheel added, AP4x, DDR RAM, USB and Gigabit ehternet stock

OS X now ships with OS 9.1 included. so if you were plannig onn buying 9, buy OS X and get both.

Geforce3 is now running great under OS X, Q3 pulls around 160fps with fsaa on. no more artifacts or other annoying crap. OpenGL is working. no DVD playback in OS X planned, they say use 9.1 for DVD playback.

Were are working hard on porting cluster management software to OS X. what bothers me the most is FSB bandwidth that this machine is pulling >700MBp/s is amost unacceptable.
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March 30, 2001 6:32:13 PM

OS X is gcc compilable, does that mean it can be compiled and used on a x86 compatible pc?


<i><b><font color=red>"2 is not equal to 3, not even for large values of 2"</font color=red></b></i>
March 30, 2001 6:54:11 PM

No, I wish. but each OS must have binary compiled for it, its not related to the compiler used. Also each platform might need to adjust c++ code to compile for it. so something that compiles on PC might not compile on PPC or MIPS, some code does compile across patforms other than that it was written for (most likely hardware spicific calls). You cannot compile aything without proper libraries installed. Im finding out that some of the graphic libraries I need are not ported to PPC/OS X yet.

www.troll.no for the OpenGL qt dev kit. is what im currently working on since our app uses those libraries.

Apple has provided a config.guess file that works great for most stuff, but some ./configure will not check for .guess file.

Probably a few mistakes in this post, so many variables involved I cannot cover them all. Im just relating to what Im doing atm.
March 30, 2001 6:59:23 PM

Palomino will not contain SOI. Thoroughbred will. SOI doesn't come into play until AMD starts using the HIP7 process in Dresden (.13u with SOI) late this year, early next year.
March 30, 2001 7:00:52 PM

I'm not sure about this but I heard that all the subsystems are modulerised, and the core is totally independant. And Apple were in some sort of a closed discussion with AMD. It might be linked or it might be something totally different. I really hope it will be cross-platform compatible, at least at code level.

I am really getting tired of windows and microsofts arrogance and waiting for linux to be developed into a widely acceptable os with lots of games. I think OS X will be pretty good. But Apple are arrogant too. so maybe they'll just keep it to them selves.


<i><b><font color=red>"2 is not equal to 3, not even for large values of 2"</font color=red></b></i>
Anonymous
a b à CPUs
March 30, 2001 7:06:37 PM

IBM is evil they must perish... whos got a steak well kill this vampire before it can suck us all dry.You have been forewarned!!!

SPUDMUFFIN

<font color=blue>Just some advice from your friendly neighborhood blue man </font color=blue> :smile:
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