IBM has demonstrated the first microprocessor with clock speeds beyond 1GHz. The company's Austin Research lab showed off a prototype 64-bit PowerPC processor clocked at 1,100MHz, three times as fast as Intel's best, the 333MHz Pentium II. Early versions of the technology could start to appear in production as soon as the end of this year. Digital tried to better IBM with the announcement of the next generation of the Alpha family - but that is not expected to reach the 1000MHz milestone until 2000. IBM is using 0.25-micron CMOS 6x technology to fabricate the chip, which has a 64-bit integer unit. It is capable of one billion instructions per second, and in total the processor uses one million transistors. According to IBM, the design team has implemented a new way of clocking the processor which, it says, allows a timing signal, or clock, to be generated with a high degree of precision. To up the clock speed, the processor is also using a cache which IBM says is able to combine address calculations with array access functions. Additionally, there is a multi-function unit which integrates addition and rotation processor instructions into a single circuit. Although the processor is a technology demonstration, an IBM spokesman said: "With these kinds of (clock) speeds, what we think of as sci-fi today can be reality." He added that real-time language translators, as used by Star Trek, could be one of the application areas for such a high-performance chip. While this processor uses standard aluminium for the integrated circuit wires, IBM's spokesman said that the technology innovations it employs could appear in the first generation of "copper" chips. IBM announced it was developing chips based on copper technology last October. These are much faster than aluminium chips, but technically more difficult to produce. Deyton said that products using copper technology will be appearing in the second half of the year, in chips like the PowerPC processor family and high speed communications chips. DIGITAL'S 1GHZ PLANS Last week, Digital introduced the next generation of the Alpha processor, the 21264. It claims this will deliver performance up to five times as fast as any architecture available today. It estimates the chip will initially be able to achieve 40 SPECint95 and 60 SPECfp95 at a clock speed of 600MHz. By 2000, the company plans to have a 1,000MHz processor which will have a SPECint95 of 100 and a SPECfp95 of 150. Systems with the new Alpha processor are expected to begin shipping in the summer.
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