Move over RISC and CISC. EPIC is coming.
Intel and Hewlett-Packard have offered some details on the new 64-bit instruction set architecture (ISA) which is the foundation of future microprocessors that will hit the market some time in 1999.
Officially dubbed the Explicit Parallel Instruction Computing Technology, Intel's and HP's 64-bit processors intend to merge the instruction sets of today's Complex Instruction Set Computing and Reduced Instruction Set Computing processors into one processor. This will allow processing of Windows-based as well as Unix-based applications by the same central processing unit.
Compared to CISC and RISC, EPIC does not follow sequential instruction processing, but rather increases performance by predicting and speculating which functions to process.
EPIC reduces the number of branches, or processing paths, and branch mis-predicts to perform at a much higher rate than today's CISC and RISC processors, executives from Intel and HP said.
Another advantage of the 64-bit architecture is that EPIC technology reduces the effects of memory-to-processor latency.
Intel plans to come to market with its first 64-bit processor, code-named Merced, in 1999, and is already working on Merced's 64-bit successor which will appear on the market in 2001, said Fred Pollack, director of processor planning for Intel's microprocessor group.
The second-generation Merced processor will offer twice the performance of Merced. It "will simply blow your socks off," said Pollack.
Intel expects that multiple operating system databases, PCs and high-end applications will appear on the market at the same time Merced ships, he said.
Intel will position its 64-bit processors at the high-end server and workstation market, and at the same time continue to support and develop 32-bit-based processors, Pollack said.
Over time, Intel expects a transition from 32-bit processors to 64-bit processors in the high-end workstation and server market.
The enhanced 32-bit processors Intel will produce will be targeted at all segments of the market, including desktops, mobile computers and servers, according to Pollack.
HP and Intel officials reiterated their claim that 64-bit processors will be fully backward-compatible with 32-bit applications and operating systems.
Asked why Intel is talking about processor technology that is a number of years away from the common reality, Pollack said Intel is interested in building momentum to ensure that when 64-bit processors appear complete systems -- hardware, operating systems and applications -- will be on the market.
For its part, Microsoft plans to produce a native 64-bit version of Windows NT which will mark Windows NT's entrance into the high-end datacenter market, according to a Microsoft official.
HP, meanwhile, will continue to develop its PA-RISC processors for several years, leaving it up to its customers to decide when to transition to 64-bit applications and systems, HP officials said.
A number of systems manufacturers, including HP, Compaq, Sequent and NCR, have pledged support for the 64-bit architecture and expect to roll out products when Merced appears.
Others lending support at the announcement of the 64-bit architecture included:
- Adobe Systems, which announced that its Photoshop image editing software will be among the applications optimised for Merced running under Microsoft's 64-bit Windows NT operating system.
- IBM which said it will work to have its DB2 Universal Database on 64-bit Windows NT in production on Merced-based processor systems when they become available in the next several years. IBM also plans to incorporate the 64-bit processor technology in its IBM IntelliStation and in its new IBM Netfinity line of PC server products, on which DB2 software can reside.