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Intel, HP plan Merced's successor

Though the 64-bit chip isn't due until the second half of 1999, the two companies are already at work on its more robust, and likely more influential, successor.

Merced, the 64-bit processor codeveloped by Intel and Hewlett-Packard, isn't due until the second half of 1999, but the two companies are already at work on its more robust, and likely more influential, successor.

Code-named McKinley, this second chip in the Merced class of processors will come out in 2001, sources close to Hewlett-Packard said. The 64-bit processor will likely start at speeds of 1,000 MHz. Like the first Merced chip, McKinley will be aimed at high-end servers and workstations, especially those servers and workstations that can handle multiple microprocessors.

Interestingly, HP is said to be participating more strongly in the development of McKinley than it has in the development of the first Merced chip, a source said. HP's involvement could help boost overall system performance because HP has an extensive background in large-scale-computer class processor and server development.

McKinley, in many ways, could be the chip that will make Intel a force in high-end corporate "enterprise" computing, various analysts and Intel executives have said.

The Merced class of processors will be Intel's first 64-bit chip architecture, a step upward in technology that will put Intel silicon in roughly the same league as its 64-bit competitors, such as the Alpha processor line from Digital Equipment.

But it remains to be seen how the initial Merced chip will compare to existing 64-bit processors and how servers based around Merced will stack up against Digital Alpha- and Sun Sparc-based servers.

By the time McKinley comes out, however, Intel will have a better handle on 64-bit processors, sources said. Fred Pollack, director of the Measurement, Architecture, and Planning Group at Intel, said last fall that the second generation of Merced would roughly double the performance of the first generation of the chip. It will, he told attendees at the Microprocessor Forum in October, "knock your socks off."

McKinley also may face a winnowed field of competitors, speculated Linley Gwennap, editor-in-chief of The Microprocessor Forum. The possibility exists that both HP and Digital will decide to downplay, or even discontinue, their own 64-bit processors in favor of Merced by the time the second generation of Merced chips hits the market, he said.

"That should be the last nail in the coffin" for some processor efforts, he said.

Server vendors, including Digital and Sun, have already agreed to support Merced in some fashion.

Success in the server and workstation arena will be crucial to Intel's overall success, according to Nathan Brookwood, an analyst at Dataquest. Intel is facing increasing price competition in the desktop arena at a time when desktops are dropping in price. If demand for desktops does not increase appreciably, the desktop processor business could become an increasingly low-profit market segment.

Thus, to maintain its profitability, Intel will have to increasingly rely on servers and workstations, which all historically carry higher profit margins.

The first Merced chip, which will come to market in 1999, will likely run at speeds between 600 MHz and 1 GHz, according to various estimates. It will cost $2,000 or more in volume, according to MicroDesign Resources, and come in a "Slot M" package.

The processor will also be the first Intel chip to use Explicitly Parallel Instruction Computing (EPIC), which Intel claims will lead to more efficient, faster processors. Essentially, EPIC can organize and process instructions in a far more efficient manner than current processors.

Intel is an investor in CNET: The Computer Network.