random memes }

Winning Chip Battles?

Recipe for Winning Chip Battles - Jonathan Schwartz's Weblog But IBM's recent Power5 announcement was odd - in that what we were expecting wasn't what IBM delivered.

Granted, I didn't get invited to IBM's P5 roll-out. I was expecting yet another of IBM's periodic, methodical improvements. Something similar to the 2002 upgrade from POWER4 to POWER4 - in which they executed flawlessly to increase speed, lower cost and power consumption. They did everything they could to make the chip work better at less cost. And that's what initiated a very tough period for Sun.

But the newly announced POWER5 seemed anti-climactic - no higher frequencies. No improvements to memory. Not even a reduction in power consumption (making the POWER name, with oil at $70/barrel, particularly ironic). About the only tangible benefit listed for POWER5 over POWER5 was a smaller die size - a manufacturing benefit for IBM.

The new POWER5 is sitting today at the exact same performance point that the old POWER5 reached over a year ago. IBM has stood still - long enough to open a window of opportunity for Sun.

A few weeks before the P5 announcement, we announced our own upgrade to our UltraSPARC IV processor. The new UltraSPARC IV is a completely revised design, which boasts a doubling of performance, a smaller die and lower power consumption. And unlike IBM, which is confining P5 to a few of its low-end systems, we already have UltraSPARC IV rolled out across our entire line of mid-range and high-end servers.

With everything else the same, a smaller die size should mean lower cost. Lower cost is effective for mostly-single-threaded applications (games machines and PCs) where power consumption is not critical. If new chips can be dropped into the new XBox then this means greater profit for IBM. If the new chips can be dropped into Apple PCs, this could mean Apple can offer a lower price point (if Apple is still willing and interested).

Checking the IBM site for news nets...

IBM delivers Power-based chip for Microsoft Xbox 360 worldwide launch "The chip was delivered to Microsoft in less than 24 months from original contract signing in the fall of 2003 in time to meet Microsoft's massive worldwide product launch for the 2005 holiday season."

So it sounds like IBM focused the majority of their engineering effort on meeting the Microsoft contract.