Intel finds it's a slow road to 800-MHz chip

Intel finds it's a slow road to 800-MHz chip

By Susan M. Menke

GCN Staff

Five years ago, Intel Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co. conceived a utopian plan: Build a 64-bit processor that could handle both the reduced-instruction-set computing commands of 64-bit Unix and the complex-instruction-set computing commands of Microsoft Windows NT 5.0, as well as its 64-bit successor operating systems.

At the time, the plan had the aura of a merger bigger than an imagined Windows and Mac OS blend.

The projected delivery date was 1998 for the processor code-named Merced and later dubbed Itanium'the first in the new Intel Architecture-64 line. But IA-64 has hit a few speed bumps on the way to the first 800-MHz Itanium chip.

When the processor finally arrives later this year, it will deliver a peak 6.4 billion floating-point operations per second''a landscape change,' said Jason Waxman, Intel's IA-64 marketing manager.

Itanium chips will show up in two-way workstations, four-way servers and other configurations with eight, 32, 64 or more processors for data warehouses, high-end modeling and other demanding back-end uses.

Intel has won a commanding share of the server market by pricing its chips lower than the competition. It will continue that strategy for Itanium, Waxman said. Although Intel officials declined to predict how much the first Itanium servers would cost or how much Intel has spent on IA-64 development, they said Intel counts on better value to compete against RISC vendors.

One factor in the long delay has been Intel's decision to maintain backward compatibility with IA-32 applications in IA-64's explicitly parallel-instruction computing structure. EPIC supposedly will let sites continue using some of its 32-bit software.

'They must validate it with their software vendors,' Waxman said. 'No other 64-bit architecture has as many operating systems committed.' There are five. The popularity of Linux led Intel this month to announce it is 'shifting its policy to accommodate the changes in the industry. The environment has changed with the open-source community becoming increasingly important.'

Intel has taken the unprecedented step of throwing open its Itanium microarchitecture on the Web, at developer.intel.com/design/ia-64. Intel is connecting Itanium servers to the Web so developers can validate and debug their software live.

Intel delivered prototype Itanium servers and workstations in December. All IA-64 software development had to be done via emulation before that. Despite hardware delays, the OSes are ready, or nearly so.

•'HP, the first IA-64 partner, has 64-bit HP-UX 11.x available; see devresource.hp.com/STK/class_network_11_00_over.html.

•'IBM Corp. is tailoring its Monterey version of AIX with help from Santa Cruz Operation Inc. of Santa Cruz, Calif., which had taken over the Unix trademark in 1996 hoping to join in the 64-bit revolution. Now SCO is also promoting a Linux standard.

•'Linux for IA-64 will come from four distributors: Caldera Inc. of Orem, Utah, Red Hat Inc. of Durham, N.C., SuSe Linux AG of Germany and TurboLinux Inc. of Brisbane, Calif.

•'Novell Inc. is readying its Modesto OS.

•'As for Windows, the OS that in a sense set off the entire project became overshadowed by holdups in Windows 2000 development and by antitrust woes. Microsoft Corp. plans to release a 64-bit beta version this summer.

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