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Katmai prototypes out this summer

Software developers will receive prototypes of Intel's successor to MMX along with related software tools.

Software developers will receive prototypes of "Katmai" processors along with related software tools this summer, as part of Intel's effort to get the ball rolling on its next generation of chip technology.

Intel outlined the Katmai roadmap to approximately 50 application developers at the Computer Game Developers Conference this week in Long Beach, California. The chipmaker said that this summer they can expect to receive demonstration systems running the chips, as well as a host of tools to speed the writing of code.

The effort is intended to ensure that applications which can take advantage of Katmai will be ready for release when the chip begins to ship in the first half of 1999. Katami computers are expected to run at speeds in the range of 500 MHz and offer other system-level improvements such as technology for shuttling data around a computer.

Katmai is the code name of the next generation of Pentium II processors for performance desktops. Besides being faster than today's Pentium II chips, this generation will contain 70 additional processor instructions designed to improve performance.

The upshot: In certain cases multimedia applications will get a performance boost from Katmai. Improvements may be seen in 3D graphics, full-motion video, and speech recognition, for instance. For customers to get the benefit of the new instructions, however, Intel has to get developers to support them. Hence, the concentrated effort with developers.

Intel faces an identical challenge with the current version of its MMX technology. At the moment, MMX instructions are not widely supported by software vendors. Motorola will face the same problem with its new PowerPC processor technology, dubbed "AltiVec".

Roughly analogous to Intel's MMX, AltiVec will be incorporated in commercial PowerPC chips starting in late 1998. Like Intel, Motorola must garner support for the technology in order to fully realize its potential.

Katmai will debut at 500 MHz and move to faster speeds, according to Intel's next CEO Craig Barrett. Katmai will initially use a 100-MHz system bus, but analysts have said that Intel will likely shift toward a 200-MHz system bus shortly thereafter so that the new chips will be able to take advantage of the faster memory chips based around technology from Rambus which will start to come out in numbers around the same time. The system bus controls the speed at which the processor and memory communicate.

The Katmai instructions were sent to developers under non-disclosure agreements earlier this year, according to an Intel spokeswoman. While the instructions are not set in stone, they are mostly completed.

Intel is an investor in CNET: The Computer Network.