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Next-generation chip passes key milestone

Intel's forthcoming 64-bit processor, Merced, and an effort to prepare a new operating system for the next-generation chip passes an important milestone.

Intel's forthcoming 64-bit processor and an IBM-led effort to prepare an operating system for the next-generation chip passed an important milestone this week.

Monterey-64, an advanced version of Unix, has been up and running on a prototype of Intel's "Merced" chip since Monday, IBM said today.

Monterey-64 is the combined product of operating system software written by IBM, Sequent, and Santa Cruz Operation, three companies that each have their own variants of Unix, while Merced is the flagship of Intel's effort to include its technology in more powerful machines. Although the chip's development schedule has slipped, Intel says it is on track to debut the chip in computers in mid-2000.

"This is a good indication of how well the silicon is working," said an Intel spokeswoman.

Developing operating systems--the most basic software needed for a computer to run--is an essential step in unveiling a new chip architecture. Once the operating systems are working, higher-level software (such as databases) can be brought to the new architecture and computer companies sell the entire package.

IBM said Monterey-64 is the first version of Unix that's running on Merced--but that claim depends on how strictly one defines the Unix operating system. Intel showed Linux and Windows 2000 running on Merced prototypes at its developer conference in August, and Linux is based on Unix.

Either way, IBM can claim victory, because it's helping in the effort to bring Linux to the Merced chip along with Hewlett-Packard, SGI, Intel, VA Linux Systems, Cygnus Solutions, and the European Laboratory for Particle Physics.

IBM's version of Unix, called AIX, runs only on its Power architecture chips. IBM joined with Sequent and SCO, whose Unix versions work on Intel chips already, to create a version for Merced. Sequent, which IBM is in the process of acquiring, has extensions that let the software run on servers with dozens of processors.

With a 64-bit processor, a computer processes data in chunks twice as large as those managed by the 32-bit chips found in most desktop computers. 64-bit chips also allow a computer to use more memory and deal with much larger databases.

Intel wants its upcoming 64-bit "IA-64" chip family to be a "unifying architecture"--the technology piece that becomes as common in high-end servers as Intel chips are today in desktop machines.

Monterey-64 is one operating system among several that will work on Merced, the first of the IA-64 lineage. Other operating system contenders include Sun Microsystems' Solaris, HP's HP-UX, Compaq's Tru64 Unix, Windows, and Linux.

SGI's Irix was another version of Unix headed for use with Intel chips, but SGI decided to change direction and beef up Linux instead. In line with that effort, SGI today released a Linux debugging tool called Jessie that's designed to help programmers write large applications.

Another boost for Monterey
The movement to push Merced and Monterey-64 got another boost this week with the announcement of new compilers from two companies for Monterey-64. Compilers convert programs into instructions that work with a particular operating system on a particular chip.

Cygnus Solutions and Edinburgh Portable Compilers both announced compilers for the Monterey-64 system. Cygnus' programming tools will work for C and C++ programs for Monterey on both Power chips and IA-64 chips. EPC's compilers work with the C, C++, and Fortran languages and IA-64 chips.

IBM also is backing Yellow Dog Linux for its Unix server line. IBM has been working with Yellow Dog competitor LinuxPPC to develop Linux for Power architecture systems, but decided to align with Yellow Dog when it came to supporting a version of Linux, said Rod Adkins, general manager of IBM's Unix server line, in an interview.

LinuxPPC has the skills and knowledge for development work, but Yellow Dog has better product distribution, Adkins said.

HP, Compaq, and IBM are among the participants in an effort called the Unix Design Guide (UDG) to make it easier to move software from one flavor, or type, of Unix to another. That effort is scheduled to deliver its first version of its plan to a Unix standards body called the Open Group.

Sun, whose Solaris version of Unix is popular on the Internet, is notably absent from the effort.