IBM is preparing a 1.8GHz PowerPC 970 processor – its fastest ever – that will run both 64-bit and 32-bit applications, the company yesterday announced at the Microprocessor Forum.

The PowerPC 970 processor, due out in the second half of 2003, will dethrone the 1GHz PowerPC 750FX as IBM's fastest PowerPC chip, IBM spokesman Rupert Deighton said

Apple currently uses processors supplied by Motorola, but a Reuters report yesterday cited an "industry source" as claiming that Apple would switch to IBM’s new chip..

Neither IBM or Apple would comment on the claim.

The PowerPC 970 sports a 900MHz bus and supports multiple processors. The bus can deliver information to the processor at up to 6.4GB per second. The bus in a computer links the processor and the internal memory.

The chip is capable of processing eight instructions during a single clock cycle (8-way superscalar). It also supports vector processing, so the same instruction can be applied to multiple units of data simultaneously.

The design supports symmetric multi-processing, allowing systems to be built that link multiple processors working together for additional processing power.

Sixty-four-bit processors can handle twice as many bits of information in the same clock cycle as the 32-bit processors common in today’s desktop computers. Video and graphics editors in particular would benefit from the extra power. However, applications have to be specifically designed to make use of the 64-bit architecture.

"Sixty-four-bit works well for multimedia and Internet applications that are now becoming the staple diet for PCs," said Deighton.

Intel and Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) are both preparing 64-bit processors for regular PCs. Intel and AMD's processors are based on the x86 architecture, as opposed to PowerPC's RISC (reduced instruction-set computing) architecture. 64-bit processors are already used in servers for memory or data-intensive applications such as databases.

IBM will produce the PowerPC 970 in its new facility in East Fishkill, New York, on 300-millimetre wafers using its 0.13 micron silicon-on-insulator (SOI) process. IBM says SOI better insulates the 52 million transistors, boosting performance and limiting power consumption.

IBM's Microelectronics Division general manager Michael Mayer said: "IBM's new PowerPC 970 64-bit chip is all about bringing high-end server processing power to the desktop, low-end server and pervasive space."