"The PowerPC initiative represents the first credible assault on Intel's dominance in the personal computer arena. As such, it is one of the most interesting developments in personal computer history."
Intel & Motorola
In 1981, IBM introduced the IBM Personal Computer (IBM PC), which was built around an Intel 8088 microprocessor. Ever since, the Intel family of microprocessors has reigned supreme with a 75% market share in the $8-billion-a-year microprocessor market. In January 1984, Apple Computer introduced the popular Macintosh line using Motorola's 68000 microprocessor family. Over the years, the Macintosh has securely held its position as a premium computer system second only to the IBM-compatible computer systems in terms of market share.
CISC & RISC
Although the complex instruction set computing (CISC) microprocessor families of both Intel and Motorola continued to grow in performance at a strong pace, the performance advantage of a fundamentally different computer architecture called reduced instruction set computing (RISC) was becoming more widely known. There seemed to be a chance to harness RISC in a whole new kind of personal computer system, one that would be able to run the application programs of all the day's popular but diverse computer systems at competitive performance levels.
The PowerPC Initiative
There also seemed to be a chance to offer, in that new personal computer system, superior performance and a new breed of application programs with capabilities, such as speech recognition and teleconferencing, that could change the way we interact with computers forever. That's why in October 1991, Apple, IBM, and Motorola joined forces to develop the new PowerPC architecture and a family of microprocessors, which they believe are the foundation for a new generation of personal computing.
The Apple/IBM/Motorola alliance initially announced four individual microprocessor implementations of the PowerPC architecture:
- PowerPC 601: This was the first microprocessor to be delivered and was first used in an IBM RS/6000 workstation. It is being used in the first wave of Apple's new Power Macintosh family, and it will be used in IBM's upcoming Power Personal Systems line. Motorola has also introduced a line of personal computers which uses the PowerPC 601.
- PowerPC 603: The PowerPC microprocessor for cost-sensitive portables and other low-power, low-cost systems, this is the least powerful member of the PowerPC family, and it consumes the least amount of electrical power.
- PowerPC 604: The mainstream, high-performance microprocessor for uniprocessor or multiprocessor desktop PCs and workstations, this offers better performance than that provided by the PowerPC 601 and will eventually take its place.
- PowerPC 620: As the first 64-bit implementation of the PowerPC architecture, this provides the highest performance. The PowerPC 620 is optimized for use in high-end workstations, servers, and multiprocessor systems, which employ multiple PowerPC 620 microprocessors (parallel processing) to achieve very high levels of performance.
The First New Machines
All four of these PowerPC chips went through their development steps in parallel in order to bring the entire family to market more quickly than would be possible with a more traditional serial development approach. As a result, the first systems based on the PowerPC were available by mid-1994. By early 1995, notebooks, desktops, servers, and development systems were available featuring 601, 603, and 604 microprocessors from Apple, IBM, Motorola, and Bull. Some new microprocessors were also unveiled in 1995, including the PowerPC 602 and the PowerPC 603e.
IBM and Motorola also introduced special-purpose PowerPC microprocessors, which will be embedded in consumer electronics and other specialized devices. These microprocessors consume very little power with only moderate sacrifices in performance. Motorola now provides components that allow vendors to build PowerPC based systems using a single chip containing both memory and PCI bus controllers.
In RISC, Apple saw a way to offer a leap forward in performance without forfeiting compatibility. At the same time, Apple could move off of a CISC architecture. The additional performance could be fully exploited by a new breed of Power Macintosh application programs to provide functions (such as text-to-speech, speech recognition, multimedia, and telephony) that heretofore had required specialized and expensive hardware options.
Apple's Power Macintosh Line
These are the things that led Apple to place the biggest PowerPC bet of all the principal companies involved. Apple has abandoned the Motorola 68000 family and publicly committed its entire product line and thus its very future to the PowerPC architecture. In March 1994, Apple introduced its first wave of PowerPC-based Macs, called the Power Macintosh family. This consisted of three Power Macintosh models built around the PowerPC 601 microprocessor and the same mechanical design as some earlier 68000-based Macs. Apple then followed up with three PowerPC-based servers in April, put PowerPC 601 microprocessors in five models of the Performa line in October, and then refreshed the original Power Macintosh line in January 1995. Apple shipped over 600,000 Power Macintosh systems in the first six months and expects to ship over a million PowerPC-based systems within the first 12 months.
IBM's Power Personal Systems
IBM was the first to introduce a computer that used a PowerPC microprocessor (in the RISC System/6000 Model 250) and intends to use the PowerPC family of microprocessors throughout its many product lines. IBM's most focused initiative is in its Power Personal Systems Division. Here, IBM is developing a new line of personal computers that will aggressively compete directly with the incumbent Intel-based personal computers. Other major pushes are moving the AS/400 and RS/6000 families onto the PowerPC bandwagon. At the high end of IBM's "palmtops to teraFLOPS" strategy, the Power architecture is being used in the POWER Parallel Systems family. As the PowerPC technology matures, PowerPC microprocessors will likely be used in many of IBM's large-scale systems.
Multiple Operating System Choices
Unlike Apple, IBM has not bet its entire personal computer business on the PowerPC microprocessors. IBM's Personal Computer Company fully intends to keep developing personal computers based on the Intel microprocessors. However, the Power Personal Systems Division is planning to announce a new line of PowerPC-based personal computers with several different operating system choices that can run off-the-shelf OS/2, DOS/Windows, Apple Macintosh, and AIX application programs among others.
The strategy is to provide 80486SX (25 Mhz) levels of performance for existing off-the-shelf OS/2 and DOS/Windows applications, Quadra 700 performance levels for existing off-the-shelf Macintosh applications, and native performance levels for existing AIX application programs. This compatibility will help attract DOS/Windows, Macintosh, and RS/6000 users to the new Power Personal Systems and buy the time necessary for more native PowerPC applications to become available. These native PowerPC applications, which will offer extreme improvements in performance, can be harnessed to less expensively implement such features as voice recognition, pen input, and multimedia thus fundamentally changing the way we use computers.
The PowerPC Reference Platform
IBM's Power Personal Systems will be guided by the PowerPC Reference Platform system design specification developed with the help of Motorola and published by the Power Personal Systems Division. IBM has published the PowerPC Reference Platform specification as a guide to encourage other computer manufacturers to design PowerPC-based clones, which will help embed PowerPC systems as the new industry standard. Apple, originally not conforming to the PowerPC Reference Platform, has recently announced its intention to make future Power Macintosh computers conform to the IBM- endorsed Common Reference Platform, which is a superset of the original PowerPC Reference Platform specification.
The New Standard in Personal Computing
Both IBM and Motorola bring a wealth of chip design tools, advanced fabrication processes, chip manufacturing experience, and marketing muscle to the PowerPC alliance. IBM and Motorola are working to make PowerPC the new standard in personal computing and the architecture on which the convergence of computing, telecommunications, and entertainment will ride. Because high-volume production is the only way to make PowerPC microprocessors cost-competitive with Intel's microprocessors, Motorola is helping to build strategic partnerships with computer manufacturing groups that will likely lead to high-volume applications for the PowerPC chips.
Telecommunications & Entertainment
In the area of entertainment, IBM and Motorola want to see chips based on the PowerPC architecture used in things like interactive cable television an enormous upcoming consumer market. In the area of telecommunications, for example, Motorola is working with European companies to embed PowerPC chips in public branch exchanges (PBXs) and other switches used in telephone systems. By promoting the PowerPC architecture in these key areas, IBM and Motorola hope to position the PowerPC architecture as the natural choice for the designers of future computing "appliances" that will continue to more fully merge the functions today performed by telephones, entertainment systems, and computers.
The Impact on Information Systems
What does all this mean to the corporate information system executive? The PowerPC brings a new dimension to the realm of corporate computing. The PowerPC, supported by the world's leading computer manufacturers, offers the corporate user an opportunity to purchase personal systems with substantially higher performance from a variety of vendors. As the PowerPC becomes more predominant in the mid-size and high-end systems, we will begin to see compatible software running on everything from the palmtops to the massively parallel systems. The initial investments of Apple, IBM, and Motorola will pay dividends in reduced software costs and higher productivity for the end user.
About the Author
Jim Hoskins is also the author of the popular Business Perspective series which covers IBM's Personal Systems, RISC System/6000, AS/400, and System/390 computer families and has sold over 200,000 copies. During his ten years with IBM, he was a design engineer and manager in various development groups including the original Personal System/2 development team. He has also worked with many computer users to help determine their computing needs and select appropriate computer solutions.
Exploring the PowerPC Revolution!
MaxFacts Guidebook(tm), Second Edition
by Jim Hoskins
"...the best PowerPC material I've seen yet. Virtually every sentence provides useful information without all the fluff." - Wayne Miller, Sr. Systems Engineer, SAIC
This popular and freshly updated MaxFacts Guidebook(tm) provides an in-depth, yet easy-to-read look at the whole PowerPC project from top to bottom. It will help you make informed decisions in the age of the PowerPC.
Hoskins takes a close look at IBM's new PowerPC-based personal computer family and Apple's Power Macintosh line. The book examines operating system alternatives, software compatibility challenges, emulation techniques, and other software issues. Finally, the independent and often surprising PowerPC strategies of IBM, Apple, and Motorola are presented.
The IBM PC Power Series
A Business Perspective
by Jim Hoskins and David Bradley
A new book to help those who sell, buy, recommend, or use personal computers and/or UNIX workstations assess IBM's PowerPC-based personal computer line, particularly its business applications.
See if the IBM PowerPC series is right for you with helpful discussions and coverage of all major issues including software compatibility, performance, human centered computing, operating system alternatives, cost justification, and much more.
Learn to select the right hardware and software and how to make a smooth transition from your current system by looking over the shoulder of three hypothetical businesses (small, medium, and large) as they make the switch to the IBM PowerPC series.
Written in cooperation with IBM's development lab and reviewed by PowerPC engineers and programmers to insure technical accuracy.