Intel’s Merced Gets Branded Itanium

Intel has formally named its long-awaited, next generation chip Itanium (formerly code-named Merced), the first in Intel’s line of IA-64 processors. The company announced the new brand name on Monday, October 4 (you can read the announcement at Itanium isn't an element or a real word, but a branding tactic meant to associate Intel's new chip with IT, e-business, and the future world of massive, distributed PC systems. The new chip incorporates special features to support high-speed, high-volume, secure 64-bit transactions. Apparently, Itanium went to silicon in August, and Intel has tested prototypes to boot Windows NT, Trillium's Linux, HP-UX, and Monterey, with Solaris soon to follow. The company is also testing Oracle 8, SQL Server 7.0, and a handful of other programs for compatibility. When Itanium ships, Intel hopes its chips will achieve 6 gigaflops (6 billion floating point operations per second), which would make Itanium faster than Sun Systems' UltraSparc 3 and Compaq's Alpha upcoming offerings. Itanium will process 20 instructions per clock cycle, with leading parallelism, and faster than RISC offerings. Intel hasn't released any official word about Itanium’s clock speed, but industry insiders estimate that Itanium will be available in speeds of 600MHz, 755MHz, and 955MHz. The chips will support either a 2MB or 4MB Level 3 cache and will have about 400 registers. The new processor is due out in mid-2000, and Itanium-based systems will reach desktops in the second half of 2000. The UK IT news source The Register took a look at Intel's registration of the new Itanium trademark and discovered that the company has far-reaching plans for the chip. According to The Register, Intel has registered the trademark not only for the basic chip, but for OS software, applications, video boards, audio boards, fax machines, and pretty much anything that can participate the transmission of an audio or video signal. You can see the entire list of products that the trademark affects at Although Intel is promoting Itanium’s floating-point and parallel processing performance, the company will have to match up against Advanced Micro Devices (AMD). AMD claims that its Athlon 700MHz outperforms the 600MHz Pentium III in floating-point operations by 45 percent. AMD is also pushing Athlon’s parallel-processing capabilities. Support by PC enthusiasts indicates at least some agreement by the public that AMD’s chips are finally competing head to head with Intel's chips. Intel isn't providing any official etymology for the new name, but our best guess is that Itanium evokes the strength of titanium, while emphasizing the chip's information-processing capabilities by invoking the IT buzzword. Many industry analysts have raised eyebrows at the precise timing of Intel's announcement, which coincided with AMD’s announcement that it was shipping what it calls “the world’s fastest processor,” the AMD Athlon 700MHz. Several online sources saw this move as a way for Intel to upstage AMD. No sooner had Intel announced Itanium than Fred Weber, AMD’s vice president of engineering, began describing to the Microprocessor Forum a project known as SledgeHammer, AMD’s vision for 64-bit computing ( Weber described details about AMD's architectural design and a future 6.4Gbps system bus known as Lightening Data Transport. AMD plans to let users run 32-bit applications on the company's 64-bit processor while software makes the transition to 64 bits. That capability to be backward-compatible has IBM looking closely at AMD's 64-bit technology (IBM is rumored to be interested in AMD). Although AMD was not forthcoming about the availability of this next-generation processor, the company has a clear target to wield its SledgeHammer against. For now, AMD's announcement is simply a future looking statement, which is legalese for “don’t hold us to it, we’ll let you know when we get there.”

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