AUSTIN, Tex. ( ChipWire) -- Apple Computer Inc.'s stock tumbled Tuesday after the company said its earnings would be hurt by Motorola Inc.'s inability to supply enough of the G4 processors Apple uses in its latest systems (see Sept. 21 story). In the past, Apple has relied on both IBM Corp.'s Microelectronics Division and Motorola's Semiconductor Products Sector for supplies of PowerPC processors, but Motorola is Apple's sole source for the G4, which features copper interconnect technology.
IBM and Motorola dissolved their jointly run Somerset design center for PowerPCs two years ago, and Motorola went off on its own to develop the Altivec instruction set that's implemented in the G4. Altivec includes a 128-bit engine called the vector processing core, which works with a standard 32-bit PowerPC integer core.
Though IBM executives have intimated that IBM would license the Altivec processing engine and add it to an IBM-based PowerPC design, the two companies remain in the talking stage, which means Motorola will remain the sole supplier of the G4 for the foreseeable future.
Will Swearingen, director of marketing for Motorola's PowerPC division, rebuffed suggestions that the G4 supply problems to Apple stem from Motorola's being the sole supplier of the processor.
"This is a startup issue, not a production issue," Swearingen said. "I've gone through many of these ramp-ups, including the PowerPC 603e, 604 and many others, and there were always these kinds of early-stage supply problems, even when both IBM and Motorola were both ramping up production."
Motorola has been manufacturing fast SRAMs with copper interconnects at its MOS 13 facility in Austin for nearly a year, but the G4 is its first processor to use copper interconnects. The G4, with a relatively small die of only 83 mm, is manufactured in a 0.20-micron (drawn) process. It is packaged in a 360-pin ceramic BGA at Motorola's BAT 1 assembly and test facility, which is located next to the MOS13 frontend.
Brian Wilkie, the newly appointed general manager of Motorola's PowerPC division, said Apple's demand for the G4 processor has been higher than expected. But he also acknowledged that Motorola "definitely is behind where we wanted to be at this stage of the G4 ramp-up."
He declined to describe specific production problems, but said "we need to work our way through all the steps in the production process, the test programs, the logistics, to make sure everything is working right."
The G4 production issues at Motorola were the proverbial salt in a wound that has been festering since the fall of 1997, when both IBM and Motorola were readying their respective introductions of copper-based process technology. Though both companies presented papers at the International Electron Device Meeting (IEDM) in December 1997, IBM managed to get the lion's share of the attention. Since then, IBM has rankled Motorola's process technology group with its claim to leadership in copper technology.
Asked if IBM was considering making the G4 processor, a spokesman said the company is "still evaluating" whether to license the Altivec technology. "There has been no change in that position" in recent weeks, the IBM representative said.
But IBM is set to make an announcement that it has manufactured more than 1 million processors with copper interconnects as of September, the IBM spokesman said. Most of those have been the copper-based PowerPC 750 processor shipped to Apple. By the end of the year, IBM expects to have shipped 2 million chips with copper, including both processors and other ICs such as ASICs sold to networking equipment suppliers.