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HP readies radical new PC design

Hewlett-Packard will produce two major server lines based on a 64-bit Merced chip; desktops, NCs and appliances will follow.

Hewlett-Packard (HWP) is gearing up for a radical shift in computer architecture when it begins using Intel's (INTC) 64-bit Merced chip.

Intel's current processors are based on a 32-bit architecture, referred to as IA-32. The Merced IA-64 chip architecture will deliver drastically higher levels of performance.

The major point of departure for the Merced IA-64 architecture will be in chip design and software. Space, or "real estate," on processors now devoted to "scheduling" instructions will be moved into software.

This is a radical move since about half the real estate on today's chips is devoted to scheduling and can be freed up for raw processing, said Tod Reese, general manager of open systems software at HP.

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

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

HP said today that it is planning two major server lines for the chip, expected in 1999. 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.

HP also stated that Merced processors will be used in workstations, PCs, and "appliances" including network computers and mobile devices. "Though we're focusing on severs, we absolutely see applying [Merced] to low-end desktops and the Internet to handle Internet workloads. It will also be suitable for Java-type devices," Reese said.