IBM, Freescale map Power architecture’s future

February 6, 2006 – Seeking greener pastures in markets outside of the PC, IBM Corp. and Freescale Semiconductor have announced a collaboration to drive the future of IBM’s Power architecture, including tighter links between their respective roadmaps and emphasis on higher-growth segments including automotive and consumer that promise better growth.

In a briefing at the International Solid State Circuits Conference (ISSCC) in San Francisco, CA, both John Kelly III, SVP of technology and IP at IBM, and Michel Mayer, Freescale chairman and CEO, stressed the need to emphasize the Power architecture’s utility outside of the PC realm — a move emphasized by the departure of key customer Apple, which has moved to the Intel platform for its future computers. Redirecting resources toward other markets better growth opportunities such as consumer and automotive “allows us to free up resources tied up competing with Intel on their home turf,” noted Mayer. “It’s not a good plan to fight Intel. Let AMD do that, they do it well,” he said, adding that “we’re selling millions of Power architecture processors in many segments across the world. [Apple] was a tiny piece of the iceberg.”

The major theme driving this new Power processor collaboration is the belief that the center of processor innovation (as well as volume demand) has shifted from the PC world to industries such as automotive and consumer. Mayer noted that the differences between a PC from two years ago with a new model are minor, compared with the changes in, say, cell phones that now incorporate all sorts of multimedia and connectivity features.

Kelly also noted that the Power architecture’s scalability and flexibility plays well in these new market segments where other architectures (e.g. ARM, x86) are trying to establish a foothold. “ARM is low-performance trying to push up; x86 is pushing down from other segments,” he said. “Our clients say, ‘we know what products we’re going to build in the next year or two, but beyond that, we need headroom. We believe we offer that headroom for whatever applications are going to come their way.”

While the deeper collaboration includes searching for ways to synergize each company’s respective Power architecture roadmap, Mayer said Freescale will leave the manufacturing side to IBM. “We do not really want to be in the foundry business,” he said.

As part of the deal, Freescale has joined IBM’s development community, and joins with IBM in forming an advisory council to manage the architecture’s roadmap and alignment. The goal is to provide a seamless, compatible instruction set architecture to offer new levels of extensibility and compatibility throughout the microprocessor developer community, including the open-source Linux base. The stated goals also include exploring marketing programs to expand the Power architecture ecosystem, but “We don’t need to spend a lot of money to make the point that we are able to exist outside of the PC,” said Mayer. “We’ve been in all those markets for many years…we don’t have to convince the world that we can successfully branch out.”


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