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"McKinley" set to star at Intel conference

Intel has completed a manufacturing milestone, according to sources, that will likely be one of the highlights of the Intel Developer Forum next week.

Intel has completed the design of its "McKinley" processor for servers, according to sources--a manufacturing milestone that will likely be one of the highlights of the Intel Developer Forum next week.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based chipmaker has "taped out," or completed, the blueprint on McKinley, a code name for a 64-bit processor for high-end servers, according to sources close to the company. Intel has also managed to run some software on the existing samples.

Although McKinley won't appear in servers until 2002, the news that the design is finished will likely be one of the focal points of the Intel Developer Forum, a three-day conference on all things Intel, starting Tuesday in San Jose, Calif.

Among other highlights, Intel and executives from BeComm, which makes media applications for Internet appliances, will show off a prototype of an Intel-branded Web-surfing pad. Intel will also likely update the Pentium 4 road map and discuss plans to better couple Pentium 4 computers with double data rate DRAM.

In a direct swipe at rival Transmeta, Intel will also introduce proposals for a new benchmark testing system for comparing energy-efficient notebook chips, according to the conference agenda.

Server developments, though, will likely take center stage. For years, Intel has been aggressively trying to come out with a processor that can compete against expensive and ornate chips like Sun Microsystems' UltraSparc III or Compaq Computer's Alpha. These chips process data in 64-bit chunks, as opposed to most Intel chips, which digest data at a 32-bit rate.

Despite a focus on McKinley, the Itanium chip will actually be Intel's first member of the IA-64 family. But successive delays, among other factors, have stripped that chip of much of its potential. Originally due in 1999, the chip won't be available commercially until May.

However, the majority of server manufacturers aren't designing or manufacturing their own Itanium servers; most will sell Itanium servers designed by Intel and said they will wait for McKinley before investing heavily into IA-64.

"McKinley is really the vehicle that is going to begin the volume ramp for IA-64," said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst at Insight 64.

Compaq, for instance, will release a 32-processor server based on McKinley next year, according to Mary McDowell, general manger of the industry standard server group at Compaq.

By contrast, Itanium is already relegated to the nostalgia market. Brookwood recalled one conference where the company trotted out the president of dying dot-com eToys to extol the virtues of Itanium for its e-commerce needs.

"He was saying how they needed more capacity," Brookwood laughed. "eToys probably isn't pushing them for delivery anymore." Earlier this month, the online toy retailer announced it expects to shut down in April.

Along with these two chips, Intel will also likely discuss "Foster," a code name for a version of the Pentium 4 for servers due out in May. The chip will be part of the Xeon family.

Memory will likely be another hot topic. Although the Pentium 4 currently works only with Rambus memory, Intel has already said it will come out with a "Brookdale" chipset that allows PC makers to couple the chip with DDR DRAM.

The question now is when Brookdale will come out. A DDR version of Brookdale is slated for the first quarter of 2002. Other companies, though, such as Acer Labs, are expected to release Pentium 4 chipsets for DDR DRAM this year. Some industry watchers believe Intel may move up the release date. A panel discussing the memory road map will take place Tuesday afternoon.

Analysts say the megahertz race, or lack thereof, will also likely be a topic of conversation. Last year, Intel and rival Advanced Micro Devices were engaged in a fierce battle to have the fastest chip on the planet. A slowdown in PC demand has taken some of the fire out of the race. Ultimately, this could slow the pace of chip acceleration.

"The market is so soft right now that no one is asking for a refresh of components," said Dean McCarron, principal analyst at Mercury Research.

As it did at the last conference, Intel will use the event to promote peer-to-peer computing. Andrew Chien, one of the founders of Entropia, one of the leading P2P start-ups, will speak on Wednesday.