AUSTIN, Texas At its first technical conference, the Power.org group laid out a roadmap of stepwise improvements for Power microprocessors. Led by IBM Corp. and Freescale Semiconductor, the group seeks to keep its software base stable while expanding use of multi-core techniques and its penetration into consumer markets.
Once a contender for mainstream computers, Power is now limited to use in IBM's servers and a broad collection of embedded markets--including communications, automotive and game consoles--where it competes with the ARM, MIPS and the x86. Proponents are taking a go-slow approach toward attacking new opportunities while not disrupting legacy software in those diverse markets.
"Adding new features without compromising the old ones is increasingly difficult where you have multiple millions of lines of code," said Brian Wilkie, assistant general manager of the integrated communications group at Applied Micro Circuits Corp. (Sunnyvale, Calif.), one of four Power suppliers. "This instruction set architecture is just fine, so let's just make it faster, lets not make it different," he said in a keynote address here Monday (Sept. 24).
"Clearly our challenge is programmability and debug across a lot of legacy code and a very broad set of embedded application markets," agreed Lynelle McKay, general manager of the networking and computing group at Freescale in her keynote.
AMCC has reportedly doubled the size of the 32-bit PowerPC 400 business it acquired from IBM in early 2004. However, much of that business is said to be in low-end processors such as the 405.
One other Power supplier, P.A. Semi Inc. (Santa Clara, Calif.), is now sampling a 65nm version of its embedded chip geared for a range of communications markets. Designers are now turning their attention to the prospects for a 45nm design.
"Freescale and IBM have been able to double the number of Power suppliers with AMCC and P.A. Semi coming on, but getting more silicon providers wouldn't hurt," said Linley Gwennap, principal of market watcher The Linley Group (Mountain View, Calif.).
At the conference, Power.org announced it has the results of a comprehensive study of as many as 70 embedded markets Power addresses with forecasts for them out to 2011. However, it is keeping results of that study commissioned from International Data Corp. private to its members.