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Motorola starts to talk up PowerPC 7457

New G4 CPU nearing lift-off

Motorola's latest G4-class PowerPC processor, the MPC7457, will feature prominently at this week's Smart Networks Developer Conference (SNDF), being held at Disneyland Paris.

The 7457, codenamed 'Apollo 7', was announced last February, and began sampling in March. In February, Motorola said the part would ship in volume in Q4 2003.

The chip is essentially a die-shrink of the current 7455 (aka 'Apollo 6') as Motorola moves from a 0.18 micron to a 0.13 micron process. That has allowed the company to expand the chip's on-die L2 cache from the 7455's 256KB to 512KB.

That, says Motorola, brings the 1.3GHz 7457 a 40 per cent speed increase over the 1GHz 7455. The clock frequency hike provides just a 33 per cent performance boost - the rest comes from the chip's extra L2 cache.

The 7457 features a faster, 200MHz system bus, paving the way for 400MHz DDR SDRAM support. It can also cope with more backside L3 cache than its predecessor: 4MB compared to the 7455's 2MB.

According to Motorola documents seen by The Register, the 7457 is "footprint compatible" with the 7455, but the new chip has an extra pin for L3 cache addressing. The documentation implies that the equivalent pin on the 7455 isn't connected to anything, so provided Apple has designed its existing CPU daughtercards with the 7457 in mind, it should be able to add 7457s to its existing boards, assuming it's planning to use the chip at all. Our instinct is that it will, in its consumer computers, if only to maintain clear water between the iMac and the Power Mac lines.

Motorola is marketing the chip at the embedded market, but as we've seen, although the 7455 officially peaks at 1.067GHz, Motorola offers 1.25GHz and 1.4GHz parts too. The 7457's clock frequency range is 1-1.3GHz, but we'd bet that Motorola will offer desktop customers higher clocked versions. It's embedded G4s are given L and N codes to indicate "upper" and "lower" frequencies - and core voltages of 1.6V and 1.3V, respectively.

The chips Apple uses are coded P, and feature even higher clock speeds and core voltages of 1.85V. These chips are aimed at desktops and aren't pitched at embedded-chip buyers presumably because their power dissipation characteristics are less desirable for that market. Whatever, it's hard to imagine that Motorola will not offer P-class 7457s to Apple and others.

Extrapolating from Motorola's own figures, the 7457 should consume 30W as 1.4GHz and around 33W at 1.6GHz, based on a 1.6V core voltage. Running at 1.85V we'd estimate power dissipation will be much higher.

Full pricing for the chip has yet to be revealed but Motorola has said the 1GHz part will cost around $189 in batches of 10,000. That's a lot less than the $475 that the 1.25GHz 7455 is currently available through distributors for. Apple probably won't be paying that much, thanks to volume discounts, not least because it needs two per Power Mac.

IBM's PowerPC 970 has been rumoured to be being offered to Apple at around 25-35 per cent cheaper than competing Motorola parts. ®

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