THE PowerPC came of age as a serious contender at Comdex this month. The platform, based on reduced-instruction-set computing technology and developed jointly by Apple, IBM and Motorola, made its initial splash at Comdex last year. But discounting the release of Apple's Power Macintosh (which is based on the PowerPC processor), the chip has not really challenged the Intel x86 architecture in the mass consumer market. Comdex, however, added some shape and direction to the PowerPC platform. The battle lines are drawn. Based on what was going on at Comdex this month, you can be sure that next year will be the start of a long and protracted war of the processors - pitting the PowerPC against the long-dominant Intel platform. It is sure to be a bloody contest, and one in which the consumer cannot lose - the best news of all. The architecture has started to gather momentum, after a deal was announced early this month between IBM, Apple and Motorola concerning the PowerPC hardware reference platform specifications. The hardware reference platform means that the PowerPC machines will support a broad range of operating systems. Securing a common hardware reference platform is seen as essential if the PowerPC is to stand any chance of unseating Intel. A special PowerPC pavilion outside the Las Vegas Convention Centre held testimony to the growing strength of the forces behind the PowerPC. It contained 60 kiosks displaying applications software running on PowerPC. The pavilion gave the impression that the PowerPC platform was designed to offer something for everyone - at least, it was clearly designed to run a wide variety of operating systems. On display were applications running on PowerPC-based machines using either the Mac/OS, a beta version of IBM's OS/2 Warp for PowerPC, Windows NT, AIX (IBM's UNIX implementation), Sun Microsystems' Solaris, and Novell NetWare. Even Microsoft was represented with its Excel, Word and PowerPoint applications running on PowerPC-based systems, running on both Mac/OS and Windows NT. IBM has started to make louder noises about its PowerPC plans, saying it will start selling personal computers based on the PowerPC chip 'in the spring', when it will also start shipping its OS/2 Warp for PowerPC operating system. IBM, which already has RS/6000 workstation products that are based on PowerPC, said it planned to market and support the new RISC-based PCs through IBM PC Company channels. It is when IBM launches its PowerPC products when the so-called 'chip wars' will begin in earnest. Other PC powerhouses have also announced plans to launch PowerPC-based systems next year, most notably the notebook specialist Toshiba and a consortium of Taiwanese manufacturers. This is not to say that PowerPC-based PC-class machines do not exist. Apple has shipped more than 400,000 Power Macintosh systems this year. Motorola was showing off its new line of systems known as PowerStack, a family of servers and PCs based on the Power architecture and running IBM's AIX operating system and Windows NT.