June 12, 2003 6:13 PM PDT
Macs to drive on HyperTransport links
The Cupertino, Calif.-based company will use HyperTransport as a high-speed link between the two processors that make up the chipset in new desktop Macintoshes, sources said. A chipset is a group of chips that manages the internal functions of a computer.
Apple is one of the founding members of the HyperTransport consortium of companies backing the standard, which includes Advanced Micro Devices, Cisco Systems and Sun Microsystems. The Mac maker declined to comment for this story.
HyperTransport 1.0 features an aggregate data transfer rate of 6.4 gigabytes to 12.8 gigabytes, depending on the configuration. This is faster than most existing chip-connection technologies, a change that in turn should lead to overall better performance. A 2.0 version is expected in the first part of 2004 that should go faster.
HyperTransport links are one of the reasons behind the performance improvements in AMD's Opteron processor, according to company executives and others. In addition, Transmeta plans to use the standard in its upcoming TM8000 chip.
While some have said that HyperTransport will be a feature in computers that will be shown at the conference and will appear shortly, the company's product strategy is often difficult to predict with complete accuracy. However, it should not be too long before the chip-to-chip connection is placed in the Mac, sources said.
Research firm IDC predicts that there will be 30 million HyperTransport ports shipped in 2003, a figure that it expects to grow to 200 million by 2006. IDC counts a port as a point of connection: If a Northbridge and a Southbridge chip connect over a HyperTransport link, that is two ports.
The inclusion of the communication standard is one of a number of announcements expected in Apple's new desktops, which will likely be unveiled at the company's Worldwide Developer Conference, which is scheduled to start June 23 in San Francisco.
Apple has already said it will show off Panther, a new version of the Mac OS X operating system, at the confab.
It may also discuss plans to adopt IBM's PowerPC 970 processor, sources have suggested. The PowerPC 970 can handle 32-bit software--found on most desktops--and 64-bit software, which is found on high-end servers. Among the benefits of 64-bit computers is that they can take advantage of far more memory than 32-bit machines.
Although 64-bit workstations have been around for years, 64-bit standard desktops and laptops are virtually nonexistent, as is software for them. The 64-bit PCs expected this fall that will incorporate AMD's upcoming Athlon64 chip look likely to be used mostly as 32-bit machines, analysts say. The increased performance from these machines, however, should help interest from buyers grow, say 64-bit advocates.
IBM unveiled the design of its PowerPC 970 processor at last year's Microprocessor Forum, stating that the chip would come out some time this year. It has already committed to using the chip in its servers. Sources close to IBM, meanwhile, have said that Apple would adopt the processor at some point.
Like the PowerPC 970, AMD's Opteron chip runs 32-bit and 64-bit software, accomplishing this task by tweaking its 32-bit chips to run 64-bit instructions.
Apple will likely not use HyperTransport in the same manner that computers using Opteron chips use it, said Kevin Krewell, senior editor of the Microprocessor Report, who could not confirm Apple's plans.
Still, using HyperTransport to link the two chips of the chipset together should bring benefits. Graphics chip leader Nvidia uses it in a similar way to connect the silicon it makes for Microsoft's Xbox video game console.
"It has worked well for Nvidia," Krewell said.
News.com's Ian Fried contributed to this report.