Motorola's Powerful New Chip

By David E. Sanger
The New York Times

June 29, 1984

The Motorola Corporation yesterday introduced a powerful new microprocessor that analysts said would make it possible for the next generation of desktop computers to rival the power of giant mainframe machines.

The new chip is the long-anticipated successor to the Motorola 68000, the microprocessor that lies at the heart of Apple Computer Inc.'s Macintosh computer, among others. But the new device, called the 68020, can manipulate 32 bits of information at a time. It can also exchange data with outside devices at that pace, twice the rate of the older chip. A bit is the most basic unit of data handled by a computer.

''There is nothing else comparable to this 'super-chip,' '' said Gary L. Tooker, executive vice president and general manager of the company's semiconductor products. ''In terms of applications, the 68020 is a quantum leap,'' he said.

The company, one of the nation's largest semiconductor manufacturers, claimed yesterday that the new microprocessor could execute between two and three million instructions per second, a speed that rivals some of the mainframe and super mini-computers made today.

''It's a very significant announcement, both for Motorola and the industry,'' said Thomas Kurlak, semiconductor analyst for Merrill Lynch. ''A lot of users of the 68000 are waiting for a 32-bit chip,'' he said, primarily makers of computer-aided-engineering machines, specialty instruments, and sophisticated personal computers.

Not the First in 32-Bit Market

Motorola is not the first in the 32-bit market; National Semiconductor announced a similar chip in October, and the NCR Corporation and the American Telephone and Telegraph Company are among other major manufacturers who have begun to manufacture them. But the Motorola entry is considered particularly significant because it is compatible with the five-year-old 68000. It should require relatively little effort, industry experts say, to modify many of the programs written for the older chip so that they can run on the newer one.

Moreover, the new chip is of a special kind, known as CMOS, for Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor, that uses far less power than traditional microchips. That means it will be particularly suitable for battery-operated, small devices, and for large, high-capacity machines where the heat generated by conventional components limits speed and increases costs.

Still, it will likely be some time - at least a year, and more likely two, analysts say - before the first personal computers using the new chip come to market. ''No personal computer on the market right now is ready for this kind of performance,'' said Mr. Kurlak. ''That doesn't mean they won't be in the future, but it will take some time.''

Initially, the chip will be quite expensive. Motorola said the first models will sell for $487 each, close to the price of the 68000 when it was first brought out in 1979. But as with all semiconductor products, the price of the 68000 plummeted as volume production began, and it now sells for about $15. ''We have every reason to believe the experience with the 68020 will be the same,'' said Murray A. Goldman, corporate vice president and general manager of Motorola's microprocessor division, in a recent interview. In 1985, he said, the company would likely ship only 100,000 units of the new chip.

I.B.M. and Apple Interest Seen

Mr. Goldman would not specify which computer manufacturers have expressed interest in the new chip. But analysts said that I.B.M. and particularly Apple must be among them. ''Apple's been looking at this chip for a long, long time, there is no question in my mind,'' said Ken McKenzie, associate director of Dataquest Inc., a California market research firm. ''But it will take a unique, revolutionary design, as revolutionary as the Macintosh was, to get this into the PC.''

The chip will likely bolster Motorola's competition with the Intel Corporation, maker of the chip used in the I.B.M. Personal Computer and I.B.M.-compatible machines. It will compete most directly with the Intel 80286, rumored to be at the heart of I.B.M.'s as-yet-unannounced next entry in the personal computer market.

Yesterday Jack C. Carsten, a senior vice president of Intel, said he thought it would be some time before the industry moved to 32-bit chips. ''The bulk of the market for the next few years will be in the 16-bit area,'' he said. Intel's most sophisticated microprocessors are all 16 bits. ''It's a big transition to 32 bits, and we will be there when that happens.''

At National Semiconductor, Col Rada, the company's marketing director, said, ''We are confident that we have the best architecture today,'' and said he expected to be shipping ''several hundred thousand'' 32-bit chips next year.

In trading on the New York Stock Exchange, Motorola closed yesterday at $32.125, up 50 cents.

GRAPHIC: photo of chip (page D3)

Copyright 1984 The New York Times Company