Intel's top brass has sketched out the company's microprocessor roadmap at its bi-annual developer forum, including plans for high speed chips that support Intel's new, multimedia-enhancing Katmai instruction set.
"Nineteen ninety-nine will probably be the most intensive year for product announcements that we've seen for some time," said Craig Barrett, Intel's president and CEO, in his keynote address kicking off the three-day forum.
Barrett also shed some light on how the StrongARM chip architecture, which it secured a license for last year, will fit into its product line up. The chip is ideal for building handheld computing appliances and set-top boxes, and will be a complement to Intel's x86 architecture rather than a competitor to it, Barrett said.
In addition, Barret revisited the perennial industry theme of increasing the PC's ease-of-use and functionality as a way to attract more users. Electronic commerce will be one key application that will drive PC sales, and to foster that Intel will build additional security features into its hardware, he said.
All the upcoming processors discussed today had been revealed previously by analysts familiar with Intel's plans, but the announcements here represented the chip giant's first public acknowledgment of many key upcoming server and desktop products.
Many of those products will feature the Katmai New Instructions, a set of 70 new processor instructions that follow on Intel's MMX technology. For users, the instructions promise a noticeable improvement running emerging applications that rely heavily on audio, animation, video and 3-dimensional rendering, said Albert Yu, senior vice president of Intel's microprocessor products group.
"You can get some very exciting graphics effects that until now were unthinkable," Yu said, in a keynote address following Barrett's.
Intel's first chip to use the technology, called simply Katmai, is due early next year and will run initially at 450MHz and 500MHz. Products to follow for the high-end desktop market include Coppermine, a version of Katmai built using an advanced 0.18 micron manufacturing process that Intel will start transitioning to in mid-1999.
Due late next year, Coppermine's smaller die-size will allow it to include performance-boosting integrated Level 2 cache memory, as well as drive the chip's clock speed above 500MHz, Yu said.
For high-end workstations and servers, Intel will release early next year a device codenamed Tanner, a 500MHz chip that includes the Katmai instructions and boasts up to 2Mb of Level 2 cache. Later in the year Intel will release a 0.18 micron version of Tanner codenamed Cascades, which will run faster still, Yu said.
Intel won't say yet how fast the Katmai chips due late next year will run, but in a demonstration here engineers cranked a Katmai chip up to 804MHz -- at which point the online banking application it was running crashed.
The Katmai extensions will also enhance the ease of using PCs by improving "natural data input methods" like speech recognition, Barrett said. He called keyboards "an inherently Western language phenomena," implying that voice recognition will help increase PC usage in non-Western countries.
Intel has yet to say if it will license the Katmai instructions to rivals like Advanced Micro Devices and National Semiconductor subsidiary Cyrix, as it has done with the MMX extensions, noted Peter Glaskowsky, a senior analyst at MicroDesign Resources in Sunnyvale, California.
Glaskowsky said Intel eventually probably will license the new instructions because keeping a lock on the technology might raise antitrust concerns among US federal regulators.
Other products in the pipeline for early next year include a 366MHz version of Celeron for the low-end PC market, up from 333MHz available today, and a 333MHz version of its Mobile Pentium II processor, which today is available at 300MHz, Yu said. After his presentation, Yu said it is "too early to say" if the Katmai New Instructions will be used to beef up multimedia performance in Intel's Celeron chips.
Looking farther ahead, Intel is on track to deliver Merced, its new 64-bit processor for workstation and server markets, in mid-2000, Yu said. In the second half of 2001, Intel will release the successor to Merced, another 64-bit chip codenamed McKinley, which will offer twice the performance of Merced, according to Yu.
The company will continue to develop 32-bit processors in parallel with Merced so that customers are not forced to transition immediately to the new, 64-bit architecture, Yu said.
Addressing cost of ownership and ease-of-use, Barret said Intel is working on a technology that allows PCs to fall into sleep mode and then resume normal operation in only eight seconds, Barrett said. Scheduled to appear in early 2000, the sleep mode uses just 15 watts of power, compared to about 7 watts for a video cassette recorder in sleep mode, he said.
Barrett also talked about stripping away "legacy features" in PC motherboards that are creating a bottleneck to the faster processors available today, and which also add a few dollars to the cost of each PC, he said. In particular, Intel hopes the industry will stop using the ISA (Industry Standard Architecture) bus by the end of next year, and plans to introduce native support for technologies like Universal Serial Bus, Barrett said.
To improve Internet access speeds the company is working on a number of initiatives including improved standards for data delivery via cable, satellite, xDSL (digital subscriber line) and digital TV, Barrett said.
For increased security Intel in the first half of 1999 will increase support in its hardware for the Common Data Security Architecture, a specification designed to allow software and hardware makers to build plug-and-play security products, Barrett said. Intel is also adding to its hardware security features traditionally handled by software programs, including the ability to generate random numbers, Barrett said.
"When you pull all this stuff in together, you may end up with a hardware system design that looks very different to what we have today," Barrett said.