IBM Unveils World's Fastest Microprocessor

Got speed?

IBM unveiled details Wednesday about its new advanced chips, which the company says can process information at record-breaking speeds far faster than those in ordinary desktop computers.

The technology giant said it spent more than $1.5 billion on research and development of the new chip tech, which debuts in the form of the 5.2-GHz z196 CPU.

The z196 processor is a four-core chip that contains 1.4 billion transistors on a 512-square millimeter (mm) surface. The chip was designed by IBM engineers in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and was manufactured using IBM's 45 nanometer (nm) technology in the company's fabrication plant in East Fishkill, N.Y.

But don't look for these speed demons in regular computers from HP or Dell; the fast new processors are destined for mainframe systems only, the giant computers that power business and research labs worldwide.

IBM plans to ship the processors in a new ultrahigh-end workstation, called zEnterprise 196, which contains 96 of the world's fastest chips and can execute more than 50 billion instructions a second, according to IBM -- more than 17,000 times the rate of IBM's high-end system in 1970, the company said.

The new system has 60 percent more capacity than its predecessor, the System z10, and uses about the same amount of electricity. It also has new software that IBM says can deliver a 60 percent improvement in dealing with data-intensive Java workloads.

The company in March said the goal of the advance was to use use pulses of light rather than copper wires to exchange information between chips and to build the needed components out of silicon rather than costly, esoteric materials.

IBM's advance involves a key component called an avalanche photodetector, which converts light into electricity. The company's researchers say they used silicon and a material called germanium to create an avalanche photodetector that's among the fastest and least power-hungry of its kind.