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HP, Compaq on Intel's role post-merger

Top R&D executives from the two companies clarify the role the chip giant will play in the combined operation should the mega-merger succeed.

Top R&D executives with Hewlett-Packard and Compaq Computer clarified on Wednesday the role chip giant Intel will play in their combined operation should the mega-merger between the companies succeed.

See special coverage: A Fight to the Finish HP, which has remained more independent than Compaq and Dell in following Intel's product roadmap, has no intention of handing over its server architecture to Intel in a post-merger world, said Dick Lampman, director of HP Labs. The companies will work together on projects, but HP will run its research and product-development projects separately.

"Demands by our high-end customers will require a lot of innovation from the (merged) company," Lampman said.

Lampman, along with Shane Robison, Compaq's chief technology officer, discussed the future of the combined companies research-and-development efforts in a conference call with the media. The press conference is yet another step the companies are waging in the hotly contested proxy battle over the $22 billion merger. HP shareholders vote on the merger Tuesday, with Compaq investors voting the following day.

"We work closely with Intel on microprocessors for our server architecture, but we differentiate ourselves by our chipsets," Robison said. While microprocessors, or CPUs, serve as the brain of a computer, the chipset is like the spinal cord along which communications among the various components of the computer are passed.

HP is also delving deeply into nanotechnology, which involves making circuits out of molecular chains. HP researchers have said nanotechnology could have commercial applications within a decade. Intel takes a dimmer view of its prospects.

Chipsets aside, though, HP and Intel share a fairly strong bond. The two companies together devised the architecture behind Itanium, a 64-bit processor for high-end servers, and HP has said it will phase out its PA-RISC line of chips in favor of Itanium, over time. As a prelude to the merger, Compaq transferred the bulk of technology behind its Alpha chip line to Intel and switched to Itanium.

Although it approved the merger, the Federal Trade Commission said that it had at one time had concerns about the merger's effect on the 64-bit chip market.

Scott McNealy, Sun Microsystems chief executive, has avoided the Itanium chips and is a strong advocate of remaining independent when assembling an intellectual-property package. McNealy, in a previous interview with CNET's, has described HP as a sellout and a "grocery store for Wintel computers."

But Lampman and Robison said the merger will allow for more products and a faster introduction of those products to market. Both executives note, however, that it is difficult for the R&D departments to sum up whether they have achieved various goals.

"It's not as easily quantifiable as sales figures," Robison said, adding that one metric used is information gleaned from partners. "Our partners let us know if we're helping our customers build out their product portfolios over the long term."

Itanium is one of two major products that HP's research-and-development teams have embarked on recently. Lampman also pointed to HP's high-end Digital Press 6600, which uses liquid electrophotography--a technology that offers better resolution than laser or ink printers but claims a printing system that costs far less than traditional offset presses.

"The interesting thing with this merger is what it will do for our customers," Robison said. "It will help them solve large problems that will enable them to move their infrastructure to the next generation."