First IBM computer with PowerPC chip is launched in drive to challenge Intel

Laurie Hays, Staff Reporter
The Wall Street Journal

September 22, 1993

New York -- After months of hype, International Business Machines Corp. yesterday launched its campaign to break Intel Corp.'s lock on the computer-chip market by introducing the first workstations based on its new PowerPC microprocessor.

IBM has set ambitious plans for the new chip, which it developed in a three-year collaborative effort with Apple Computer Inc. and Motorola Inc. IBM vowed to eventually deliver a sweeping range of PowerPC computers, from lower-priced desktop systems to powerful mainframes and even extending into the realm of controller chips used in new automobiles.

The workstations IBM introduced as new models in its RISC System/6000 line take aim at a sophisticated but relatively small market. But IBM and Apple, at one time its fiercest rival in desktop PC's, are expected to target a far bigger market by introducing personal computers based on the PowerPC early next year.

"It's a major bet, as big a bet as I've seen IBM make on a new technology in a number of years," said Daniel Mandresh of Merrill Lynch Capital Markets.

The gamble to upset Intel's dominance of the chip market, however, is fraught with risk. The vast majority of the more than 150 million personal computers in use world-wide are based on Intel technology, and they run thousands of software programs designed explicitly for the Intel chip. New PowerPC computers from IBM will have to be capable of running all that installed software without a glitch, a difficult task. Yet IBM must also persuade software developers to design new program versions that can exploit the new chip's own powerful features.

But some analysts and industry experts say the IBM-Apple-Motorola team may well find at least partial success. So far, the effort has been aggressive, and IBM claims the technology is ahead of rivals in terms of price and performance.

Competitors, of course, disagree. Just two weeks ago Digital Equipment Corp. introduced a new Alpha chip that it says surpasses the performance of the new IBM-Apple-Motorola device. In addition, IBM hasn't signed up any outside PC makers to commit to the PowerPC chip. Compaq Computer Corp. and Dell Computers Ltd. have questioned whether PowerPC will have broad appeal.

Still, the PowerPC is being introduced at about half the price of Intel's latest generation, the Pentium chip. While the Intel line is largely confined to the DOS and Windows operating systems of Microsoft Corp., the PowerPC has the advantage of being able to integrate a variety of operating systems, including DOS, Windows and Apple's Macintosh, according to IBM.

That is because the new chip has enough power to override and integrate the rival software, letting users run applications from any of those competing systems on the PowerPC-based workstation, which operates on an IBM version of the Unix operating system.

The question is how fast Windows applications and other titles will actually work. Sensitive to criticism that PowerPC runs Windows more slowly than Intel's 486 chip, IBM entertained a packed news conference here yesterday with a video display showing Windows running at a faster clip on the PowerPC than on an Intel 486 chip.

An IBM spokesman later stressed that the film was a laboratory demonstration and the technology that makes Windows run more quickly won't be available to customers until early next year.


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