Motorola set to announce AltiVec processor; industrial-temp devices to be available

AUSTIN, Texas — Leaders of the Motorola Semiconductor group in Austin, Texas, are set to introduce the initial AltiVec G4 additions to their PowerPC microprocessor family later this month.

Sep 1st, 1999

By John Rhea

AUSTIN, Texas — Leaders of the Motorola Semiconductor group in Austin, Texas, are set to introduce the initial AltiVec G4 additions to their PowerPC microprocessor family later this month.

This move not only will mark one more step toward even more powerful devices sharing the same reduced instruction set computer (RISC) architecture, but also toward optimizing the device for increasingly complex digital signal processing (DSP) functions, says Will Swearingen, director of PowerPC marketing at the company`s Semiconductor Products Sector.

The announcement is set for Sept. 13 at Motorola`s biennial Horizons forum in Austin for financial analysts, Swearingen discloses. Industry specialists have eagerly awaited the AltiVec since the company first disclosed the technology to be embodied in the fourth generation (hence the designation G4) of the PowerPC on May 7, 1998.

Already Swearingen is anticipating a fifth generation, or G5, that will extend the performance of the AltiVec.

The AltiVec generation will comprise at least three or four parts, he says, to be introduced two at a time over the next two years. Improvements will embrace such advanced fabrication techniques as copper interconnect, and feature sizes of 0.15 micron. G5, due around 2001, will push the technology envelope further into such techniques as silicon on insulation (SOI).

What AltiVec is really all about, Motorola officials say, is extending the vector processing architecture (hence the "Vec" in AltiVec) from the world of supercomputers to diverse applications through the use of 128-bit-wide registers to provide 4-, 8-, or 16-way parallelism. It is a single instruction multiple data (SIMD) parallel-processing extension to the PowerPC architecture to permit processing of multiple data streams in a single cycle.

Meanwhile, more devices in the PowerPC family (including the generations of G4, G5, and beyond) will become available in extended temperature ranges.

Since last May the third-generation PowerPC 750 and 740 microprocessors have been available in industrial grades (-40 to 105 degrees C junction temperature) through licensing arrangements with Chip Supply Inc. of Orlando, Fla., and Thomson-CSF Semiconducteurs Specifiques of Greenoble, France. Swearingen says Motorola leaders expect to make further announcements of extended-temperature devices in the PowerPC family next May.

Motorola officials intend to demonstrate the utility of their PowerPC family in several different markets, he adds, starting with such big-volume applications as Apple desktop computers. They will further demonstrate the PowerPC for radar and other military applications in which the array processing capability will enable the devices to replace existing DSPs and applications specific integrated circuits (ASICs), he says.

Speed is an important consideration — 400 MHz now and certain to rise with this month`s announcement — but Swearingen stresses that it is equally important that the devices are capable of 16 operations per cycle vs. three for conventional superscalar devices.

Swearingen says today the heart of the AltiVec applications are in telecommunications and networking. He singles out voice and sound processing, multi-channel modems, motion video, MPEG imaging, and high definition television. Other goals for AltiVec include Internet protocol telephony and secure encryption optimized for SIMD processing.

These are likely to be high-volume markets with sufficient economies of scale to support optimization of performance. Yet in Motorola`s original AltiVec announcement officials hinted that in subsequent generations "performance must be balanced with power, price, and peripheral integration." This refers to the qualities that would make them suitable for real-time, embedded military applications.

More in Computers