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Intel eyes Hollywood-style graphics

The chipmaking giant invests $13.5 in Discreet Logic, an image-processing software designer, to seed the market for Intel-based workstations.

Intel (INTC) is going Hollywood.

The Santa Clara chipmaking giant has invested $13.5 million in Discreet Logic, a software designer whose editing systems and digital content creation (DCC) applications have appeared in several recent special-effects blockbuster films, including The Titanic and Independence Day.

Under the terms of the agreement, Discreet Logic will develop image processing software to run on workstation PCs based on Intel's next-generation 64-bit processor, code-named Merced. Merced, which is due in the second half of 1999, is expected to perform at clock speeds of 1000 MHz or more and improve how graphics are processed on Intel-based machines, two major issues with workstation vendors.

The venture is part of Intel's strategy to expand markets for its chips by investing in companies involved in graphics-oriented computing products. By investing in companies like Discreet Logic, Intel "can grow the whole computing market, and we also can learn a lot about the special effects market, which is not a market that we have a lot of visibility in. It's a great way to keep your finger on the pulse," said Robert Manetta, a spokesman for Intel.

Unix vendors such as Silicon Graphics and Sun Microsystems currently dominate the market for graphics-intensive workstations. Intel workstations, by contrast, are primarily bought by number-crunchers such as financial institutions.

To compete more effectively in the graphics segment, Intel will incorporate four floating point units in Merced, as well as multiple integer units. Current Pentium II chips have one floating point unit and two integer units. The floating-point processing units are used heavily for graphical and scientific applications.

"We've been trying to show the mettle of the Intel architecture at the high end," said Manetta. "This has traditionally been the domain of the high-end Unix RISC workstations."

Intel is an investor in CNET: The Computer Network.