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IBM, Intel work on new workstation

Big Blue is working with Intel to design a next-generation workstation that will include a new version of the Pentium II.

IBM is working with Intel to design a next-generation workstation that will include a new version of the Pentium II processor.

IBM is eyeing the processor to remove several bottlenecks in its Pentium II workstations, according to Satish Gupta, general manager of IBM's professional workstations division.

IBM in October of last year established a new workstation division that builds Intel-processor based workstations. Big Blue is cooperating with Intel's workstation division, also newly established, to design future ultra-fast systems, Gupta said.

In addition to delivering more raw processor speed, IBM is seeking a chip that communicates at greater speed with the rest of the system, with access to larger amounts of memory. "Having a large memory is almost more important than having a fast processor" in high-end workstations, Gupta noted.

IBM hopes that the new Pentium II processor, due for release in 1998, will address these problems.

The next version will run at speeds up to 400 MHz, according to Gupta. The Intel Pentium II family currently tops out at 300 MHz.

The Pentium II version shipping now can handle no more than 512MB, a level unsuitable for some high-end applications, Gupta said. The new Pentium II will be able to handle as much as 1GB of memory.

Intel's Pentium Pro processor is capable of handling 1GB of memory under Windows NT, but IBM expects Intel to eventually phase out the Pentium Pro and replace it with the Pentium II. Intel has confirmed this in the past.

The chip is also expected to communicate with the rest of the PC system, through the so-called processor bus, at higher speeds.

The Pentium II, Intel's current top offering, has two significant drawbacks that limit its effective speed in workstation systems. First, the level 2 cache operates at a "fraction" of the processor's clock speed, not the processor's full speed, slowing memory operations.

Also, the chip talks to the motherboard--the PC's main circuit board--at 66 MHz, a significant delay in communicating with memory and other devices in the computer. IBM expects that the new chip will ease both these bottlenecks, with a level 2 cache running at the full speed of the chip and a PC-to-motherboard speed of at least 100 MHz.

(Intel is an investor in CNET: The Computer Network.)