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Intel: Upcoming Itanium chip will hit 800 MHz

The chip giant confirms that its next-generation, high-end processor will come out at 800 MHz when it debuts later this year.

SAN FRANCISCO--Intel confirmed today that its next-generation, high-end processor will come out at 800 MHz when it debuts later this year.

The processor, which has experienced some delays, is the 64-bit Itanium chip. It's Intel's first foray into a high-end market largely defined by such companies as Sun Microsystems and IBM. Intel is currently shipping prototype Itanium chips to computer makers for testing, analysts have said.

Although 800 MHz will make the new 64-bit chip slower than Pentium IIIs when it comes out, there are a number of performance benefits for this chip, Intel executives said at the International Solid-State Circuits Conference here.

"Eight-hundred MHz will be our speed at production; however, this is just the beginning," said Gadi Singer, one of the head researchers on the Itanium project. "The 800-MHz (chip) is being developed on a relatively new process and the architecture is not tuned yet for critical speed paths."

Among other benefits: A four-processor Itanium server using a standard Intel chipset will be able to handle 64 gigabytes of memory, far more than traditional Intel server systems, Singer said. He also said that the system bus used with the chip will perform 266 million transfers per second--roughly equal to 266-MHz--which is double the current bus rate. The chip will execute six instructions per clock cycle, double the Pentium III in most circumstances.

Itanium will initially come in two basic varieties, depending on cache size. The less-expensive chips will come with 2MB of third-level cache, a memory reservoir near the processor that boosts performance. More expensive versions will come with 4MB of third-level cache. The software that comes with that processor will also come with "memory hints" that will tell the cache whether to discard data or retain it for repeat use.

Itanium will be paired with standard computer memory, called SDRAM, and in all likelihood a newer, faster version of SDRAM called DDR DRAM. The chip will come in one- and two-processor workstations and in servers going from one to 512 processors, Singer said.

"Today we have four percent of the server capacity that will be needed in four to five years. That leaves 96 percent," he said.

In other news, Intel sources said that the first 1-GHz Pentium III will come out around midyear, with computers using the chips arriving at the same time. AMD, IBM, and Compaq's Alpha unit are also describing plans for 1-GHz chips at the conference, which should appear at the same time.

The bigger issue Itanium faces is how much demand there will be for it. Generally, analysts believe that its number-crunching prowess will make it good for workstations and technical computing, especially the lofty edge of the workstation market that Intel has yet to fully penetrate.

Typically conservative business users, however, will mostly likely initially purchase Itanium systems for testing purposes before moving widely to the new chip.