US Report: IBM's smaller, faster chips are copper

IBM is delivering on its promise to provide PC processors using its new copper technology.

The company will announce on Tuesday that chips using its fast copper technology are in high-volume production, according to IBM. The first chips the company plans to produce are the PowerPC 740 and 750, widely used in Apple's Power Mac PCs.

"This brings us another step closer to bringing copper to the mainstream," said Bill O'Leary, a spokesman at IBM Microelectronics. "We have a good six-month lead on other companies." The technology -- unveiled by IBM last September -- uses copper in place of aluminium as the primary metal for making chips. The copper process, as implemented by IBM, means that the chips consume up to 58 percent less power and are more than 40 percent smaller than comparable chips made with aluminium. And in chips, smaller frequently means less expensive.

According to O'Leary, the list price of a 400MHz PowerPC 750 will be $605 (£369) in lots of 1,000 units. That's $65 less than Intel's top-of-the-line 450MHz Pentium II. The first chips will be based on 0.20-micron process technology - 20 percent smaller than Intel's current state-of-the-art 0.25 micron technology, making it cheaper and less power-hungry.

Copper in on its way toward becoming the golden metal of the Silicon Age. "We are kind of reaching the end of the line with aluminium," said Mike Feibus, principal analyst at semiconductor research firm Mercury Research Inc. "The early copper chips are in the role of making today the first day of the rest of your life."

Other companies, including Texas Instruments and Motorola have also announced breakthroughs in copper technology for use in their chips. Neither of those companies, however, uses the technology in its manufacturing plants.

While Apple would not comment on whether it intended to use the new copper PowerPC chips in its computers, Apple interim CEO Steve Jobs is expected to make several server and workstation announcements during his keynote at the Seybold Publishing Conference today in San Francisco.

A computer using a copper PowerPC chip could potentially be shown off by Jobs at the conference. "If Apple does goes with copper, it will be good for them," said Tim Bajarin, president of market researcher Creative Strategies in the US. "Copper means they will be able to offer more to their users."

Because IBM's new PowerPC chip uses significantly less power than other contenders, Apple's notebook line could also profit from the new chips.

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