Judging by details revealed in a chip conference agenda, the clock frequency race isn't over yet.
IBM's Power6 processor will be able to exceed 5 gigahertz in a high-performance mode, and the second-generation Cell Broadband Engine processor from IBM, Sony and Toshiba will run at 6GHz, according to the program for the International Solid State Circuits Conference that begins February 11 in San Francisco.
Chipmakers have run into problems increasing chip clock speed--essentially an electronic heartbeat that synchronizes operations in a processor--because higher frequencies have led to unmanageable power consumption and waste heat.
To compensate, Intel and Advanced Micro Devices have turned instead to the addition of multiple processing cores on each slice of silicon. That's effective when computers are juggling numerous tasks at the same time, but increasing the clock speed means an individual task can run faster.
The first-generation Cell Broadband Engine chip, co-developed by IBM, Sony, and Toshiba, has just appeared in Sony's PlayStation 3 game console and can run at 4GHz. The second-generation chip will run at 6GHz, according to the ISSCC program. In addition, the new chip will have a dual power supply that increases memory performance--a major bottleneck in computer designs today.
For servers, IBM has said its Power6 processor, due to ship in servers in 2007, will run between 4GHz and 5GHz. But in the ISSCC program, Big Blue said the chip's clock will tick at a rate "over 5GHz in high-performance applications." In addition, the chip "consumes under 100 watts in power-sensitive applications," a power range comparable to mainstream 95-watt AMD Opteron chips and 80-watt Intel Xeon chips.