PowerPC G4

PowerPC G4

PowerPC G4 is a designation used by Apple Computer to describe a "fourth generation" of 32-bit PowerPC microprocessors. Apple has applied this name to various different (though closely related) processor models from Freescale, a former part of Motorola.

Macintosh computers such as the PowerBook G4 and iBook G4 laptops and the Power Mac G4 and Power Mac G4 Cube desktops all took their name from the processor. A PowerPC G4 was also used in the eMac, first-generation Xserves, first-generation Mac minis, and the flat-panel iMac before the introduction of the G5 processor.

Apple completely phased out the G4 series for desktop models after it selected the 64-bit IBM-produced PowerPC 970 processor as the basis for its PowerPC G5 series. The last desktop model that used the G4 was the Mac mini which now comes with an Intel processor. The last portable to use the G4 was the iBook G4 but now has been replaced by the Intel-based MacBook. The PowerBook G4 has been replaced by the Intel-based MacBook Pro.

The PowerPC G4 processors are also popular in other computer systems, such as Amiga clones, like the Pegasos from Genesi. Besides desktop computers the PowerPC G4 is popular in embedded environments, like routers, telecom switches, imaging, media processing, avionics and military applications, where one can take advantage of the AltiVec and its SMP capabilities.

PowerPC 7400

The 7400 (Codename: Max) debuted in late summer of 1999 and was the first processor to carry the G4 moniker. The chip operates at speeds ranging from 350 to 500 MHz and contains 10.5 million transistors, manufactured using Motorola's 0.20 μm HiPerMOS6 process. The chip die measures 83 mm² and features copper interconnects.

Motorola had promised Apple to deliver parts with speed up to 500 MHz, but yields proved too low initially. This forced Apple to take back the advertised 500 MHz models of PowerMac G4. The Power Mac series was downgraded abruptly from 400, 450, and 500 MHz processor speeds to 350, 400, and 450 MHz. The incident generated a rift in the Apple-Motorola relationship, and reportedly caused Apple to ask IBM for assistance to get the production yields up on the Motorola 7400 series line. The 500 MHz model was reintroduced on February 16 2000.


Much of the 7400 design was done by Motorola in close co-operation with Apple and IBM. IBM, the third member of the AIM alliance, did design the chip together with Motorola in its Somerset design center, but chose not to manufacture it, because it did not see the need back then for the Vector Processing Unit. Ultimately, the G4 architecture design contained a 128-bit vector processing unit labelled AltiVec by Motorola while Apple marketing referred to it as the "Velocity Engine".

The PowerPC 970 (G5) was the first IBM-manufactured CPU to implement VMX/AltiVec, for which IBM reused the old 7400 design they still had from the design they did with Motorola in Somerset. The Xenon CPU in the Xbox 360 also features VMX, with added proprietary extensions made especially for Microsoft. POWER6, introduced in 2007, is IBMs first "big iron" CPU to also implement VMX.

With the AltiVec unit, the 7400 microprocessor can do four-way single precision (32-bit) floating point math, or 16-way 8-bit, 8-way 16-bit or four-way 32-bit integer math in a single cycle. Furthermore, the vector processing unit is superscalar, and can do two vector operations at the same time. Compared to Intel's x86 microprocessors at the time, this feature offered a substantial performance boost to applications designed to take advantage of the AltiVec unit. Some examples are Adobe Photoshop which utilises the AltiVec unit for faster rendering of effects and transitions, and Apple's iLife suite which takes advantage of the unit for importing and converting files on the fly.

Additionally, the 7400 has enhanced support for symmetric multiprocessing (SMP) thanks to an improved cache coherency protocol (MERSI) and a 64-bit floating point unit, derived in part from the 604 series. The 603 series had a 32-bit wide floating point unit, which took two clock cycles to accomplish 64-bit floating point arithmetic.

The PowerPC G4 family supports two bus technologies, the older 60x bus which it shares with the PowerPC 600 and PowerPC G3 families, and the more advanced MPX bus. Devices that utilizes the 60x bus can be made compatible with either G3 or G4 processors, enabling a wide variery of offerings and a clear and cheap upgrade path while keeping compatibility issues at a minimum. There are primarily two companies manufacturing system controllers for G4/G3 computers, Tundra with their Tsi1xx controllers and Marvell with their Discovery controllers.

PowerPC 7410 "Nitro"

The PowerPC 7410 uses the same design as the 7400 but it was manufactured at 180 nm instead of 200 nm. Like the 7400 it has 10.5 million transistors. It debuted in the first-generation PowerBook G4, introduced on January 9 2001.

This chip added the ability to lock all or half of the cache as high-speed non-cache memory, mapping it into the processor's physical address space as desired. The feature was used by embedded systems vendors such as Mercury Computer Systems.

PowerPC 7450 "Voyager"/"V'ger"

. Motorola followed with an interim release, the 7451, codenamed "Apollo 6", just like the 7455.

The enhancements to the 745x design gave it the nicknames G4e or G4+ but these were never official designations.

PowerPC 7445/7455 "Apollo 6"

The PowerPC 7455 came with a wider, 256-bit on-chip cache path, and was made on a 180 nm, SOI process. It was the first processor in an Apple computer to pass the 1 GHz mark.The 7445 is the same chip without the L3 cache interface.The 7455 is used in the AmigaOne XE G4.

PowerPC 7447/7457 "Apollo 7"

As of early 2005 the fastest processor shipping in Apple's G4 lineup was the MPC 7447B, running at 1.67 GHz and found in the January 2005 revision PowerBooks. The 58-million-transistor 7447 is slightly improved from the 7450/55, it has 512 KiB on-chip L2-Cache and was manufactured at 130 nm, hence drawing less power. With the 7447A, which introduced an integrated thermal diode as well as DFS (dynamic frequency scaling) Freescale was able to reach a slightly higher clock. The 7457 has an additional L3 Cache interface. However, its frequency scaling stagnated when Apple chose to use the 7447 instead of the L3 cache-enabled 7455 they used before. This decision was most likely taken because of cost concerns, since fast SRAM used for L3-Cache is fairly expensive. The only companies that offer the 7457 in the form of upgrades for the Power Mac G4 and Power Mac G4 Cube are Giga Designs, [http://daystartechnology.com/ Daystar Technology] (they use the 7457 only for iMac G4 upgrades) and [http://www.powerlogix.com/ PowerLogix] . The Pegasos computer platform from Genesi also uses 7447 in its Pegasos-II/G4.

PowerPC 7448 "Apollo 8"

The 7448 is an evolution of the 7447A and is essentially a faster (up to 2 GHz) and more power-efficient version of the 7447A manufactured in 90 nm with 1 MiB L2 cache and up to 200 MHz front side bus and it features Freescale's new standard core, the e600. Daystar ships a 7448 upgrade for Aluminum PowerBook G4s, and NewerTech have similar upgrades for older PowerMac G4s.


In 2004 Freescale renamed the G4 core e600 and changed focus from general CPUs to high end embedded SoC devices, and introduced a new naming scheme, MPC86xx. The 7448 was to be the last pure G4 and it formed the base of the new e600 core with a seven stage, three-issue pipeline, and a powerful branch prediction unit which handles up to sixteen instructions out-of-order. It has an enhanced 128-bit AltiVec unit capable of limited out-of-order execution and 1 MiB L2 cache.

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