System makers continue to crank up clock speeds

Hewlett-Packard and Intel have been fleshing out plans to develop processors that blaze at speeds exceeding 300 MHz.

Hewlett-Packard and Intel have been fleshing out plans to develop processors that blaze at speeds exceeding 300 MHz.

HP chose the Microprocessor Forum in San Jose, California, last week to detail its PA-RISC 8000 processor line, which will gain the 220-MHz 8200 model that will show up in desktops, personal workstations, and midrange servers, such as the K-class applications server, early next year, says Paul Perez, project manager at HP. The PA-8200 promises to double performance with off-chip cache size increased to 2Mb of instruction and 2Mb of data, as well as with enhancements to the memory subsystem that will nearly halve access times in bus cycles to memory.

The 8500, slated for release in products in early 1998, will run at speeds of 300 MHz and 400 MHz, sport a faster system bus, and will be made with a 0.4 micron process, HP officials say.

HP's road map does raise some questions concerning the company's plan to merge its own PA-RISC product line with Intel's P7, the much-anticipated 64-bit processor HP is developing with Intel. Known as the Merced chip, this single architecture for running Windows and HP-UX applications is also slated to ship later in 1998.

"It is critically important for HP to continue developing its PA-8000 architecture because the Merced processor is late. It won't ship until 1999, not in 1997 as originally anticipated," says Brian Richardson, programme director at Meta Group, in Stamford, Connecticut. "The 8200 and 8500 will buy HP time to make a smoother transition to IA-64 architecture."

For its own part, Intel will be pushing ahead with a 300-MHz microprocessor with multimedia extensions that will be described at the International Solid-State Circuits Conference (ISSCC), in San Francisco next February.

The device will have separate 16Kb on-chip instruction and data caches and a dedicated Level 2 cache bus that supports multiple external cache configurations, similar to the company's planned Klamath processor.

Also at ISSCC, Digital will unveil a 600-MHz version of its Alpha microprocessor, and Mitsubishi will join Digital in describing a 550-MHz Alpha with multimedia extensions. Exponential Technology will describe its 533-MHz PowerPC processor; IBM and Sun will describe 350-MHz and 330-MHz Sparc processors, respectively.

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