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Intel to debut 64-bit technology

Intel and Hewlett-Packard will detail their next-generation 64-bit chip technology tomorrow.

Intel and Hewlett-Packard will detail their next-generation computing technology tomorrow and spell out how Intel PCs will cross the bridge from the 32-bit world of today to the 64-bit realm of 1999.

The first member of the forthcoming family of 64-bit Merced chips is scheduled for production in 1999, according to Intel. The processor will be produced on Intel's future .18-micron chip production technology.

Currently Intel's most advanced production process is .25 micron, employed to make cutting-edge Pentium chips which go into portable computers. The next generation of Pentium II processors, code-named "Deschutes," will also be made on the .25 process.

As a rule of thumb, the smaller the production process, the more transistors can be packed on to a chip, which allows a chip designer to integrate additional performance-enhancing features. Also, since transistors are closer together, speed is increased since there is less distance to travel.

The announcement of details on the Merced chip will take place on Tuesday, October 14 at the Microprocessor Forum.

Intel is late to the 64-bit computing market since companies such as Digital Equipment, Sun Microsystems, and Silicon Graphics already offer processors based on 64-bit technology.

The Merced architecture will initially be targeted at high-end servers and workstations. These computers are expected to run on both an upcoming 64-bit version of Windows NT from Microsoft and a new version of the Unix operating system.

HP has described the new chip as a radical design. About half the real estate on conventional chips is devoted for "scheduling" instructions, but the Merced chip will free up much of this for raw processing, according to previous statements by Tod Reese, general manager of open systems software at HP.

"This [the move to Merced] is as dramatic as the move from CISC to RISC," Reese said previously, referring to the move by many manufacturers in the processor industry over the last eight years to chips based on the RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computer) design.

The compiler--a tool for preparing computer code for execution on the processor--will handle scheduling of the instructions, according to Reese. This will, in turn, allow the number of instruction-crunching miniprocessors within Merced itself to double, greatly increasing performance, Reese said.

HP has said that it is planning two major server lines for the chip. One line will be Unix-based, able to string together as many as 256 Merced chips in one supercomputer-type system. HP will also build its own chipset to work with this system.

The other line will be based on Windows NT, targeted at the mainstream market. These systems will be able to take advantage of 4 to 16 Merced processors and will be based on Intel supporting hardware, including an Intel chipset, or group of supporting chips for the processor.

At the Microprocessor Forum, Intel and Hewlett-Packard will describe technical details such as "explicit parallelism," according to the companies. The presentation will be given by Intel Fellow and Director of Microprocessor Architecture John Crawford and Hewlett-Packard Manager and Lead Architect, Jerry Huck.

Intel is quickly forming partnerships with a number of major PC vendors for its 64-bit architecture including Dell Computer, Compaq, Siemens-Nixdorf, Microsoft, Hitachi, Oracle, Phoenix Technologies, Sequent Computer, and Unisys.

Dell, for one, says it plans to be among the first companies to provide enterprise servers and workstations using Merced, when it becomes commercially available, the company said earlier this week.

"Dell's affordable Merced processor-based servers will offer customers exceptional performance for demanding enterprise-class applications, rivaling today's most powerful UNIX/RISC-based legacy systems," said Mike Lambert, senior vice president, Dell Server Group, in a prepared statement.