Second MMX on horizon

Although the first MMX chips have yet to hit the market, Intel's already at work on the next generation of its multimedia processing technology.

Brooke Crothers Former CNET contributor
Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.
Brooke Crothers
3 min read
Although the debut of Intel's (INTC) first multimedia-enabled MMX chips is imminent, the company is already at work on the next generation of its multimedia processing technology that will significantly improve 3D graphics.

Users will have to wait a while, however, for Intel's new and improved version of MMX. The company is planning to bring out a P6 family processor in 1998 that will include the new version of MMX. The processor, code-named Katmai after a volcano in Alaska, will use what is being referring to as "MMX2," according to Michael Slater, publisher of the Microprocessor Report.

Slater believes that MMX2 will address the performance needs of 3D graphics, a kind of multimedia processing that the initial version of MMX doesn't enhance significantly. Intel has said that 3D rendering does not benefit dramatically from MMX, though applications that take advantage of Microsoft's Direct3D programming interface will see some improvements.

"We believe Intel is moving aggressively to improve the multimedia performance of its processors, particularly for 3D graphics," Slater wrote in the Microprocessor Report, referring to Katmai.

Specifically, Slater thinks that MMX2 will have additional instructions and a larger cache compared to the first release of MMX. Each kind of processor has a unique instruction set composed of commands that a processor recognizes and can execute, often integrated into the chip itself to speed processing.

The first version of MMX will be used in MMX-enabled Pentium and P6-family Klamath processors, due for introduction in the beginning of January and the second quarter, respectively. The first few public appearances of the new technology have made it clear that, for most users, it will initially be of more value to gaming and entertainment than to the business market.

In theory, the MMX multimedia functions should eliminate the need for high-end, expensive add-on graphics cards and some communications components for entry-level PCs, as well as enhance the performance of multimedia hardware on more expensive PCs.

For users to get any bang out of their buck on the MMX, they will have to use software written to support the technology. However, very little business software has been rewritten to take advantage of MMX.

Enter Katmai, which is expected to take Intel processors to the next level of computing. "These moves will both drive another PC upgrade cycle and protect against a significant incursion from the media processors," Slater said in his newsletter.

Media processors from companies such as Chromatic Research are highly specialized chips that are adept at speeding up the processing of multimedia applications. MMX also promises to bring down the price of PCs by eliminating the need for specialty chips and boards, but if media processors really deliver better performance they could slow Intel's plans for widespread adoption of the MMX technology.

Intel is also expected to bring out a chip later in 1998, code-named Williamette, that is expected to be a 32-bit P6 family processor with additional "significant" improvements, according to Slater. "This is what the P7 would have been if Intel and Hewlett-Packard weren't doing a new [64-bit Merced] architecture," he said.

Intel is an investor in CNET: The Computer Network.