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Grove tells of "bifurcation"

An expanded product line, eight-processor servers, and new metal for chips are in Intel's future.

"Multiple bifurcation" will be one way to describe Intel's future product strategy, according to chief executive officer Andy Grove.

With the growth of Intel microprocessors in both the server and workstation arenas, the company will probably start developing different classes of processors for different classes of computing products, Grove said today at a conference in San Francisco. That would contrast with Intel's current scheme, in which one chip stretches across different types of boxes.

Further divergence between other components such as chipsets and motherboards will also occur, and in the end, component specialization will lead to greater divergence between the internal guts of consumer desktops and those for the corporate market, he said.

"This has multiple economic implications," Grove added, noting that the strategy will likely mean more plant construction for the Santa Clara, California-based chip maker.

Grove said he started using the term "multiple bifurcation" at meetings because he didn't know if terms existed to describe the third, fourth, and fifth instances that a single idea splits.

Bifurcation has already been taking place in the Intel product lineup, according to Linley Gwennap, editor-in-chief of The Microprocessor Report. The recently released Pentium Pro with 1MB cache, for instance, is clearly a chip for the server market, not the desktop space. The "Tillamook" chip for notebooks is another example.

Diversification will continue to occur when the company releases the "Slot 2" Pentium II, said Gwennap.

Although these moves will likely take care of overall product diversity for the time being, fine tuning will proceed. "Intel is getting more serious about the workstation and server market," he said, "They are not going to be able to do that with second-hand chips."

Multiple chip lines was one of a number of themes Grove touched on during a press briefing today at the "It's the Intranet and Extranet" conference, sponsored by Gartner Group.

Intel will also attempt to come up with a method for making semiconductor circuits out of metals other than aluminum. Earlier in the week, IBM proclaimed that it has come up with a way to use copper circuits on a semiconductor, which reduce the size of the chip and conduct heat better than aluminum.

Copper and silver are two likely candidates, Grove said. The change will not occur, however, for two more generations of microprocessors.

In the meantime, servers that can use eight microprocessors should be available in standard designs by next year. This development will not only allow electronic commerce to expand, but also allow Intel-based architecture to make further inroads into the market for high-end corporate servers.