ARM Vanquishes PowerPCJuly 9, 2012
Author: Linley Gwennap
When two elephants are fighting, you don’t want to get caught underfoot. In the battle between ARM and Intel, PowerPC and MIPS are the ones getting squashed. Tom Halfhill recently chronicled the struggles of MIPS. Now, it looks like PowerPC is headed on a long ride into the sunset.
Freescale announced plans to develop and sell QorIQ processors using ARM Cortex-A7 and Cortex-A15 CPUs. The company is already using ARM CPUs in its Kinetis microcontrollers and i.MX application processors, but this announcement marks the debut of ARM in Freescale’s flagship embedded chips. Until now, the QorIQ line has been the exclusive domain of the company’s Power CPUs.
This announcement follows decisions by two other Power vendors, AppliedMicro and LSI, to develop embedded processors using ARM CPUs. Like these companies, Freescale says it will continue to develop Power products as well. Given the complexities of supporting two ISAs, however, I think it is just a matter of time before they move to an all-ARM strategy.
In Freescale’s case, that change won’t happen quickly. The company will continue to develop new Power-based products for some time, and it will support its Power customers for many years to come. But unless ARM’s high-performance efforts completely fail, I don’t see Freescale developing any significantly new CPUs. The e6500 was its first major CPU design in years, and the company lacks the resources to keep pace with ARM’s investment. Ultimately, outsourcing CPU design would allow Freescale to focus on improving other aspects of its processors.
With the only vendors of merchant PowerPC processors all moving to ARM, only IBM remains committed to the venerable instruction set. Eventually, PowerPC will live only in IBM servers and videogame consoles. For the only RISC architecture that was ever successful in the PC market, the end is in sight.