By Andy Santoni
September 8, 1997
Technologists met on the campus of Stanford University on a balmy evening last month to brainstorm on how to design the next-generation
Intel processor, and in all seriousness they concluded that Intel should drop the whole thing.
"I would cancel the whole Merced program," said Keith Diefendorff, a scientist at Apple, in Cupertino, Calif.
Instead of developing Merced -- an Intel-architecture, 64-bit (IA-64) CPU -- Diefendorff said he would stick with 32-bit (IA-32)
"I would milk that architecture for another 25 years," Diefendorff said.
The performance to be gained by improvements in the manufacturing technology, such as moving to smaller feature sizes, swamp the
improvements gained by changes in architecture, Diefendorff said.
The only reason for a new architecture is to follow a technology path, said Bruce Lightner, vice president of development at Metaflow
Technologies, in La Jolla, Calif. "It's time to move on to 64 bits."
Users haven't even fully adopted 32-bit architectures, though, Lightner pointed out.
"We're still running 16-bit code," Lightner noted.
Lightner said he would develop a processor that uses a "virtual instruction set" to run existing software. By moving functions
to software or firmware, the CPU could then run Intel x86 code, Hewlett-Packard PA-RISC programs, or Java, for example.
Using software to emulate existing processors is a good idea, said Pete Wilson, an architecture specialist at Motorola Semiconductor,
located in Austin, Texas.
A pressing problem, Wilson said, is the increasing complexity of CPUs. This lengthens design time and leads to mistakes, he said.
"And things are going to get worse," Wilson said.
Another problem is that CPU speeds are increasing faster than memory speeds, Wilson said.
DRAM performance is falling behind, agreed Martin Reynolds, the vice president of technology assessment at Dataquest, in San Jose,
Calif. With memory-intensive applications such as 3-D graphics becoming more common, faster access to memory is more important.
Memory has to be on the same card as the CPU -- as cache memory is on the Pentium II processor card -- to get the required performance,
Reynolds also agreed that the transition to IA-64 will not be a quick one. Merced CPUs will not replace IA-32 processors until
the year 2002 or later, he projected.
By then, users will be running 64-bit Windows NT on Merced, said John Novitsky, vice president of marketing at MicroModule Systems,
in Cupertino, Calif. Large database applications and engineering design applications will move to the platform first, and it will
take a long time for mainstream applications to go to 64-bit, he said.
Representatives from neither Intel nor HP, Intel's Merced development partner, were on the panel, but they were taking notes in
the audience. The panel was part of the HotChips IX conference.
Hewlett-Packard Co., in Palo Alto, Calif., can be reached at http://www.hp.com/.
Intel Corp., in Santa Clara, Calif., can be reached at http://www.intel.com/.
Copyright 1997 InfoWorld Media Group
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