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Intel multimedia chip makes debut

Intel will debut its MMX multimedia technology today at Intermedia World '96 in what is billed as one of the most significant enhancements to the x86 instruction set in several years.

Intel will debut its MMX multimedia technology today at Intermedia World '96 in what is billed as one of the most significant enhancements to the x86 instruction set in several years.

The MMX technology provides an instruction set for basic multimedia functions that can be built directly into a Pentium processor. The idea behind MMX is to build systems that provide basic multimedia functionality without requiring high-end add-on cards, thereby dropping the price and improving the performance of low-end multimedia computers. This will let users run many multimedia applications like games and 3D interfaces on systems that don't require high-priced graphics and sound sub-systems.

The company will provide more details on MMX on Wednesday and has tentatively scheduled demonstrations of a prototype P55C Pentium processor that has the technology built in, Intel said.

"This is the most significant instruction [enhancement] since the 386," said an Intel spokesperson.

It may take some time, however, for developers and users to fully appreciate the technology, said Nathan Brookwood, an analyst at Dataquest.

"At first many people will say, 'I don't need it,' but later everyone will want it," he said.

The P55C is slated to be the first processor to implement the new MMX instructions and is due in the fouth quarter of this year. Eventually all new Intel processors will include the MMX technology.

In order for MMX to really deliver a performance boost for games and other multimedia applications, software developers must rewrite their software to exploit the new instructions, said Brookwood.

It's a lot like when floating point first entered the market, explained Brookwood. Floating point processors are used to speed up performance in spreadsheets, CAD programs, and many engineering and scientific applications. The 486 was the first Intel processor to have floating point functions built in, and the technology is now a standard feature, but at first there were only a very select number of applications that took advantage of the floating point performance boost.