Copper May Reach AS/400 Next Year

IBM’s copper chip technology has arrived, but it’s probably at least a year from coming to the AS/400.

According to a published report, the first copper-based PowerPC microprocessors are due out late this summer for Apple Computer’s Macintosh systems. The chips will boast processor speeds of up to 400 MHz, only slightly more than current aluminum microprocessors. However, future enhancements in the manufacturing process are expected to yield processor speeds of up to 1 GHz from copper.

Copper conducts electricity better than aluminum and has a much higher density, allowing copper chips to store more information than aluminum and pack it closer together, making processing more efficient.

Drew Flaada, program manager for IBM’s AS/400 Brand, says the first AS/400s to use copper chips will likely roll out anywhere from the second half of 1999 to the first half of the year 2000. The CMOS7 copper chips will be the basis for the AS/400’s Pulsar series processors, two generations ahead of the current Apache series.

"Copper will enable us to at least continue to achieve the 70 percent per year performance improvement we’re targeting," Flaada says.

He says copper may also be used in memory controllers and DASD controllers for the AS/400, but its main impact will be in increased processor speeds.

"We’ll get it into the CPU and get the cycle speeds cranked up," he says. "It’s a matter of how many megahertz you can go, how fast you can move data through [the processor]."

Flaada says copper also runs cooler than aluminum, which will boost the AS/400’s already impressive reliability and stability.

IBM’s Microelectronics Division declined to comment on why Macintoshes were chosen for the first rollout of copper chip technology and would neither confirm or deny that the published report was accurate. Last November, a spokesman from the division said "high-end servers" would likely be the first implementation of copper chips. Macintoshes do use the same PowerPC microprocessor technology as the AS/400.

"The core design is based on the same elements, the same architecture and the same instruction set," says Flaada. "The AS/400’s PowerPC chip is really a superset of the Macintosh’s."