The Intel-Architecture 64-bit (IA-64) Merced processor will offer as much as 15 times the performance of current processors while maintaining compatibility with existing code, say executives from co-developer Hewlett-Packard.
Although RISC processors from HP competitors will improve at a 50% annual rate, HP expects a 500%to 1500% improvement in performance from IA-64, says Richard Sevcik, an HP vice president and general manager of the company's systems technology group. He also promises that making the IA-64 binary compatible with Intel's current IA-32 processors and HP's existing PA-RISC chips will ease the transition to the more powerful CPU by allowing developers and end-users to maintain existing programs and data.
Converting system designs to the IA-64 will demand a change in hardware such as that of the switch from Pentium Pro to Pentium II, says Peter Glaskowsky, a senior analyst at MicroDesign Resources, in California.
Today, designers are struggling with the conversion from the Pentium Pro socket to the Pentium II slot, Glaskowsky notes. The Slot 1 architecture eases the transition between devices in the same generation but cannot be maintained with the wider bus architecture of the IA-64, he says.
"I don't expect the same slot will survive the transition to IA-64," Glaskowsky says.
As with the last several generational changes, the switch to IA-64 will require new protocols, Glaskowsky says. It may offer features such as a direct interface from the processor to main memory, he says.
IA-64 development will continue in parallel with PA-RISC development, HP's Sevcik said. Intel, too, will parallel IA-64 development with new IA-32 chips, said Pat Gelsinger, vice president and general manager of Intel's desktop products group.
At the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference '97, in San Francisco, last week, Gelsinger said the IA-32 Pentium II will be "announced and shipping in volume beginning next month." Following the Pentium II are other 32-bit processors, then the IA-64, he said.
"We have multiple generations of 32-bit processors in development," Gelsinger said. "We see no end to 32-bit processors."