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IBM to launch Power6 chip next month; at 4.7 GHz it’s twice as fast as previous generation

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) – Delivering on its promise of a superfast server chip, IBM Corp. said Monday that its new Power6 microprocessor will go on sale next month, boasting twice the clock speed of the previous generation while consuming roughly the same amount of power.

The dramatic performance boost comes as the semiconductor industry has largely shifted its focus away from pure performance measurements – overheating becomes a major problem as transistors shrink and operate at breakneck speeds – and instead has become more concerned with a balance of performance and power consumption.

While other chipmakers are dialing down clock speeds and adding more computing engines, or cores, to their chips to manage the competing concerns, Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM said its new dual-core chip is a breakthrough on both fronts.

Analysts said the chip, which operates at 4.7 gigahertz and cycles at a speed 25 million times as fast as the flap of hummingbird wings, will allow businesses to consolidate servers and handle substantially larger workloads.

By comparison, Intel Corp.’s Itanium 2 server processor tops out at 1.66 gigahertz.

In addition to raw power, the new IBM chip also has massive bandwidth – 300 gigabytes per second – which the company says can process the download of the entire iTunes music catalog, currently more than 5 million songs, in about a minute.

To feed data quickly to the processor, IBM has quadrupled the amount of on-chip memory, or cache, to 8 megabytes. The chip is designed for higher-end servers running the Unix operating system and is accompanied by the launch of a new server designed around it.

”Go back a few years, and the Power brand was an also-ran in the big iron chip race – in fact, it wasn’t really clear how committed IBM was to its own chip development,” said Gordon Haff, principal IT adviser for Illuminata Inc. ”But IBM decided to double down its bets on Power, and the results have been pretty impressive.”

Bernard Meyerson, chief technologist of IBM’s Systems and Technology Group, said the chip is the first product delivered under the company’s energy efficiency initiative announced earlier this month. The campaign includes a pledge to spend $1 billion to spread technologies and services designed to make corporate computing centers more environmentally friendly.

Besides the obvious processing gains, ”this translates into a much, much smaller carbon footprint” for companies, he said.

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