Grove's graphics chip due in '97

Intel isn't talking about it, but a company executive disclosed that the chip maker plans to debut its first graphics processors in consumer PCs in 1997.

LAS VEGAS, Nevada--Intel (INTC) isn't talking about it here at Comdex this week, but a company executive disclosed that the chip maker is planning to debut its first graphics processors in consumer PCs in 1997, a step intended to move the industry closer to CEO Andrew Grove's dream of "visual computing."

Intel is planning, in fact, to implement several technologies that together will push PCs into the next wave of computing, according to Carl Everett, a senior vice president in the microprocessor division at Intel (see related story, Grove predicts 10-GHz chips.)

First, Everett said, Intel will deliver graphics chips that will initially appear in MMX-capable PCs in the second half of 1997. These graphics chips will be based on a next-generation Intel graphics technology called the Accelerated Graphics Port (AGP).

AGP is a high-speed, graphics-chip connection technology designed to handle the large chunks of data needed for 3D graphics. MMX, on the other hand, is an addition to the Intel x86 instruction set for Pentium and P6 processors that accelerates the processing of audio, video, communications, and graphics applications written specifically for MMX.

To further boost the performance of PCs based on next-generation P6s, Intel (an investor in CNET: The Computer Network) will also increase the speed of the PCI bus and the P6's "processor bus." The former is a bus for handling data flow from PC components such as hard disk drives; the latter is the bus which connects the processor to rest of the PC.

Both of these are critical data highways inside a PC. Currently, bus speeds top out at only 66 MHz so that even the fastest 200-MHz Pentium Pro processor is limited by a relatively slow 66-MHz bus.

The PCI bus will get a boost to from its current 33-MHz speed to 66 MHz, Everett said.

Though he would not specify what the new processor bus speed would be for future P6 processors, sources believe it could be as high as 100 MHz.

The next generation of MMX-capable P6 processors will be introduced in the second quarter of 1997, Everett said. These are expected to run at a speed initially of 233 MHz and soon after that be bumped up to 266 MHz.

All totaled, the new MMX-capable P6 processors combined with a high-performance P6 processor bus, a double-speed PCI bus (which is expected later than the other technologies), and the new Intel AGP graphics chip will make for a PC that can deliver on Grove's visual computing vision.

But maybe even more importantly, the introduction of Intel's AGP graphics chips will finally help the company break into the massive 3D chip market currently led by companies such as ATI, S3, Cirrus Logic, 3DLabs, Trident Microsystems, and Number Nine Visual Technologies.

Though Intel fiercely denies that this is a threatening move, this graphics chip push could force some of the smaller players out of the market and even potentially damage the current market leaders.

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