Intel delays Merced by six months, causing ripples in industry

Intel will delay by six months the release of its much talked about 64-bit processor, codenamed Merced. The chip, designed for use in powerful workstations and servers, is now slated for release in mid-2000, Intel says. Intel informed its customers of the revised release date after a review of the progress of the chip's development showed that testing procedures will take longer than expected.

Intel will delay by six months the release of its much talked about 64-bit processor, codenamed Merced. The chip, designed for use in powerful workstations and servers, is now slated for release in mid-2000, Intel says.

Intel informed its customers of the revised release date after a review of the progress of the chip's development showed that testing procedures will take longer than expected, spokesman Howard High said.

One analyst said he grilled the company over the delay and concluded there are probably no major problems with the chip's development.

"It appears the issue is not that a huge technical problem jumped out on the road in front of them, but that they underestimated how long the project would take," said Nathan Brookwood, a principal analyst at Dataquest. "They maintain it is a problem with the original plan and not with the execution."

The news should send a signal to corporate users to stop holding their breath for the new technology, and to go ahead and deploy systems based on technologies available today, analyst firm Zona Research Inc. said in a statement.

Dozens of hardware, operating system and software vendors have pledged support publicly for the new architecture, and the delay is likely to have a ripple effect for companies who had planned to time the release of their products with that of Merced.

Microsoft, for example, planned to roll out a 64-bit version of Windows along with Merced. Sun Microsystems, the Santa Cruz Operation and Digital all will have to push back release dates for their 64-bit operating systems also.

In particular the delay is bad news for Hewlett-Packard, which is codesigning the chip with Intel and plans to make the IA-64 architecture the centerpiece of its enterprise strategy, Zona said.

Merced is the first processor that will be based on Intel's new 64-bit instruction set architecture, known as IA-64, and will offer significant performance improvements over the company's existing, 32-bit Pentium design.

Among other things, the chip will allow Intel to compete with the RISC (reduced instruction set computer) processors made by companies like Sun and Digital, and which are used to power most high-end servers today.

Merced's delay will likely provide some breathing space for those vendors, predicted Dataquest's Brookwood and Zona.

"If you're one of the guys at whom Intel is aiming their gun then every extra minute is another sale, another few thousand dollars," Brookwood said. "If you're DEC, or a guy selling an Alpha system, then this is a six month grace."

Intel will release various improved 32-bit processors in the interim, but the company denied press reports that it plans to release additional high-end 32-bit designs to substitute for Merced's delay.

Intel stressed that the design of the chip's microarchitecture is complete, and said the development of the chip is going well.

Intel, in Santa Clara, California, can be reached on the World Wide Web at http://www.intel.com/

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