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Intel claims IA64 will outperform Risc offerings

But how will Chipzilla achieve volume sales of Merced?

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Intel Developer Forum Our busy day in Palm Springs yesterday finished off with a dinner with the Merced team. You might remember that at the Spring Intel Developer Forum (IDF), we took snaps of the Merced cartridge, which was then siliconless, courtesy of Steve Smith, GM of the Merced group. This time, everyone was advised to bring a camera and Smith beamed away as he held the precious cargo, much as a proud dad might hold a new-born baby. At dinner we sat with Mike Pope, director of enterprise server software programmes, and the man who talks to the different operating system and application vendors. He's also got an involvement with the IA-64 fund, which has $250 million still sloshing around. Pope said that there will be Linux products by the middle of next year, and added that he is currently in discussion with a total of 30 application vendors. He told us that we will see good robust operating systems working in systems with 100s of CPUs "to satisfy most computing needs". He also made this, in our opinion, rather bold claim: "IA64 will outperform any Risc platform on price performance." However, he said that Risc vendors had had time to work on other developments during the lengthy gestation period of the Merced processor. We were interested in whether IA64 would eventually displace IA32 and Pope seemed to hedge his bets here. "Relatively speaking," he said, "Merced will be low volume." But, almost in the same breath, he said that Intel would create Merced in line with its policy of volume economics. On the scale of things, Merced, he analogised, would be sold at prices above the Pentium III Xeons. So the parts will be expensive at launch time. But as volume ramps up, that could well change. This familiar Intel formula makes sense with parts like the Pentium II and the Pentium III, of course, but the pool of people waiting for Merced is potentially much smaller if the company is selling them into the workstation and server markets. Intel managed to keep the price of the Pentium Pro high for about two years, but Merced only has a short time to sell before McKinley tips up, allegedly at .13 micron. He said: "The sales proposition with Merced is an IA64 operating system. We will also validate an IA32 OS with Merced. The base level will be a 64-bit OS. From an applications point of view, you don’t have to port the whole application to take advantage of the 64-bit [architecture]." We have written about the IA64 babes-in-the-wood that Intel has hired throughout this year, and asked Pope about this. He said that Intel is still taking on staff. "I'd expect most activity to happen in the first half of next year," he said. Merced is in silicon, but there is a great deal of debugging to be done, as with any new processor, he added. Intel is currently somewhat limited in engineering samples of its new baby, but will up the number as the debug process continues. So where is Merced positioned? According to Pope it is aimed at the workstation and high end enterprise server markets. He repeated Craig Barrett's line earlier in the day that it would be driven by the need for greater processing power in the Internet. Intel will continue to develop IA32 and if it is aiming at applications, such as database applications and net applications which take advantage of 64-bit architecture, will it sell enough of the beasties to achieve its famous volume model? ® Full IDF Summer 99 coverage

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