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Intel and Cyrix duel for MMX

Intel and Cyrix are girding for a battle over MMX multimedia technology, paving the way for fierce competition in what many feel is the most significant enhancement to microprocessor technology in years.

Intel and Cyrix are girding for a battle over MMX multimedia technology on both legal and technological fronts, paving the way for fierce competition in an area that many feel is the most significant enhancement to microprocessor technology in years.

Multimedia Extensions, or MMX, is a technology developed by Intel to boost the performance of video, audio, communications, and graphics on Intel processors which traditionally have not been very adept at handling these multimedia tasks.

MMX will be used on Intel's upcoming P55C Pentium processor and on its next-generation P6 family processors. Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) will use MMX on its next-generation K6 family of processors, due at the end of this year.

Cyrix is also planning to use MMX on its next-generation M2 processor but is parting ways with both Intel and AMD on strategy.

Unlike AMD, which is licensing the technology from Intel, Cyrix is going it alone by independently engineering MMX, and it is extending this fiercely independent stance to the very use of the MMX name.

Cyrix argues that MMX is a name which cannot be trademarked by Intel. In tandem with this dispute--and possibly having much deeper ramifications--Cyrix is secretly developing MMX technology which would outperform Intel's, potentially giving Cyrix a leg up with its upcoming MMX-enabled M2 processor, said sources familiar with Cyrix strategy.

The upshot is that Cyrix wants to use the MMX moniker, a term with increasing cachet in the industry, but associate it with its own, perhaps more-powerful version of MMX. Cyrix believes it has a legitimate right to use the MMX name as it pleases without citing it as an Intel trademark.

"MMX has been used broadly in the industry as a general term describing multimedia extensions. This is not an Intel trademark," said Steve Tobak, a marketing vice president at Cyrix. He adds that Intel has merely filed an intent to trademark which can be legally disputed.

Intel officials confirm that they have filed for the worldwide trademark and have every intention to keep MMX as an Intel trademark.

Some analysts believe that the MMX name and Intel are almost synonymous, boding ill for Cyrix's claim. "It is being used pretty widely in the industry but it is always associated with Intel's instruction set," said Dean McCarron, a principal at Mercury Research, a marketing research firm, in Scottsdale, Arizona.

"I have the [original] developer's manual from Intel and it has the trademark right on it." he added.

Intel is steadfast in its claim to the trademark and says that all its ducks are in line to promote it as an Intel trademark.

"Major PC vendors and ISVs (Independent software developers) will use our trademark. We will go to great lengths to protect our trademark," an Intel spokesperson said.