9th > February > 1999 Archive

The Register breaking news

Intel leaks details of Foster, Merced, McKinley

An Intel presentation on the future of its IA-32 and IA-64 technology has revealed mechanical details of how its Merced processor will be implemented. And the document, available for download from an Intel FTP site, reveals other, hitherto unknown details of its implementation, as well as information about Foster and McKinley. Clive Turvey first discovered the URL. The presentation is compiled by Stephen Smith, corporate VP of Intel's microprocessor products group, based at Intel's HQ in Santa Clara. Merced is still on target for release in the middle half of next year using 0.18 micron process technology. McKinley will be released in 2001, while Madison, an IA-64 performance part, and Deerfield, an IA-64 price/performance part, follow soon after, using a 0.13 micron process. Its new IA-32 architecture will provide large on-chip L1 and L2 cache and give bus bandwidth of 3.2Gbps, with L1 cache performing at 32Gbps and L2 cache at 8Gbps. The Merced will have two extended precision FMACs, two SP FMACs and provide executioon of up to eight SP FLOPs per cycle. That, claims Intel, will give 20 times the performance of the Pentium Pro and three times the performance of Tanner on 3D graphics. Merced will provide "complete" IA-32 binary compatibility, according to the presentation. The Merced will manage memory latency with a three-level cache hierarchy. That will include separate instructions and data L0 caches, a larger, unified L1 cache on the die, and the L2, which is off the die, will provide large overall capacity. Bus and memory utilisation will provide better deferred transaction support, with cache line size optimised to conserve bandwidth. The dedicated full speed L2 bus will free the system bus for multiprocessing, with increased page size of up to 256MB. Its error handing includes extensive ECC coverage on processor and bus, with hardware support for correcting single bit ECC errors. According to Intel, the microarchitecture definition of Merced is now complete. The company is in the final stages of functional RTL validation and is booting the OS kernel. The cartridge for Merced includes heat dissipation technology on top of the die, a "cost effective" performance substrate, Intel-designed static cache RAM, a full speed cache bus and separate signal and power connections for signal integrity. Intel and the industry is currently shipping 64-bit SDKs and pre-silicon software development tools. The compiler optimisation is meeting its milestones, with ISVs currently porting their server and workstation applications. Merced is already booting IA-64 operating systems, with chipsets and system designs on track for the first samples. Those OSes include HP/UX, Solaris, SCO, SGI Irix, D/UX (Tru64), Novell Modesto and Win64. Intel's target for McKinley is to create clock speeds of over 1GHz, with very large, high-speed on-chip caches. The bus is a superset of the Merced bus with three times the bus bandwidth, with target production for late 2001. Future IA-64 proliferations will use 0.13 technology. ®
Mike Magee, 09 Feb 1999
The Register breaking news

Memsolve in eleventh hour crisis talks

Troubled components distributor Memsolve has admitted that it owes around £4 million to its creditors and that it may be forced out of business unless it can overcome crippling cashflow problems. Last week the company was forced to lay off around 20 of its 65 staff, and has been unable to pay its bills -- some of its suppliers have complained that they had received cheques which bounced. The troubled company said it has faced cashflow problems since a Customs & Excise raid last November. Memsolve, based in Widnes, Lancashire, is still trading but venture capitalists Northern Venture Managers and NatWest -- the distributor's bank -- are said to be considering their next move. Chris Walmsley, Memsolve's sales and marketing manager, said the next 24 hours would be critical for the company. "I don't know for definite. It's in the hands of the bank and venture capitalists. We could either be rescued or go into receivership," he said. Eddie Pacey, Ideal Hardware credit manager, could offer little solace for Memsolve: "We have considered the company to be a high risk for some time, especially since the VAT raid. The position is now so far advanced that some form of insolvency seems inevitable." Walmsley disagreed that there was no hope. He said there was a rescue package, but said it would depend on whether creditors were willing to enter into an arrangement which would buy the company precious time. This morning, Memsolve was still taking orders, but is unable to buy anything from suppliers. Walmsley said: "We've had to put the brakes on." On 4 November, HM Customs & Excise, accompanied by Intel and Microsoft representatives, raided Memsolve's premises. According to the company, the raid was connected with a VAT fraud, allegedly committed by one of its British-based suppliers. It came three weeks after Customs officials raided a computer parts supplier -– no longer trading -– in the North West of England (see Memsolve bounces back after Customs raid). Shortly after the November raid, Memsolve's debt insurer, Trade Indemnity, pulled any new cover for creditors. It was reinstated at a reduced rate shortly afterwards. However, the insurers have again withdrawn the cover. Walmsley said: "We had an absolutely fantastic business. It's been ruined." ®
Linda Harrison, 09 Feb 1999
The Register breaking news

Hard times end for hard drive makers

Disk drive manufacturers are bouncing back from last year's saturation of the market, thanks to improved demand and inventory management. Preliminary figures from Dataquest suggest around 43 million drives were shipped in the fourth quarter, way above analysts' predictions. Less than a year ago the market was flooded and prices were being driven down. The new figures could result in prices stabilising or even rising. Analysts think manufacturers have learned the hard way after last year's downturn resulted in massive inventory excess. Specific data was not available, but five vendors were said to have sold more than five million units each in the fourth quarter. In addition, market share shifted away from the top-tier players. The combined share of Seagate, Quantum and Western Digital slipped to 51.5 per cent last year, from 63 per cent in 1997 and 68 per cent in 1996, according to John Monroe, a Dataquest analyst. Established leaders were suffering at the expense of second-tier suppliers like Fujitsu, IBM and Maxtor, Monroe said. Drive makers were feeling optimistic and forecasting flat growth for the first quarter. According to Dataquest, the industry has just got over the longest period of oversupply in its history. But as Monroe put it: "Now, distributors aren’t looked upon as dumping grounds." ®
Linda Harrison, 09 Feb 1999
The Register breaking news

Pollution Web site branded as rubbish

Friends of the Earth's new Factory Watch Web site, which displays details of factory pollution throughout the UK, has been described as "alarmist, predictable and unnecessary" by...the very companies branded as heavy polluters. Ian Wilmore, media director at Friends of the Earth, rejected accusations that Factory Watch was nothing more than propaganda. He said: "We have been very careful to link everything to clear scientific data, via hyperlink, to show where we have drawn our conclusions from." The site allows visitors to input their postcode and see the "carcinogenic" pollution level of the nearest large factory, according to an Environment Agency table, compiled in 1996. Companies such as Associated Octel, rated the worst polluter on that list, and ICI, rated the second worst, are keen to point out that this is old news, already available to the public and that pollution levels have come down dramatically since then. ICI spokesman Geoff Paddock said: "This is typical of Friends of the Earth -- the perpetuation of the myth that we are doing things secretively." ®
Will Knight, 09 Feb 1999
The Register breaking news

IBM's Project Madison: the music industry's Manhattan Project?

Analysis Further details have emerged about IBM's Project Madison digital music delivery system, announced yesterday (see Big Blue, Big Five to unveil Net music system). It's clear the scheme is much more far-reaching than at first thought, and has the potential to change not only the way digital music is currently provided but the whole music retail business too. Madison is based on what IBM describes as an "open technology architecture" called the Electronic Music Management System (EMMS). EMMS manages not only the e-commerce transaction between online retailer and customer, but it also handles all the various duplication rights and royalties incurred. That's pretty much what current music-oriented e-commerce systems allow, but EMMS appears to go an important stage further by acting as a clearing house for the music itself, enabling retailers to offer music stored in recording companies' databases of digitised tracks. In essence, retailers no longer need to store music locally, which is likely to be a major storage issue once the major labels begin to offer the 2000-2500 albums that the Project's trial run in San Diego will ultimately take in. This immediately widens Madison's reach beyond Internet-based retailers to High Street stores. Instead of carrying only a relatively small selection of available albums -- the restriction imposed the shop's floor space -- stores can offer the full choice via in-store album selection terminals and bulk CD-R facilities. Music technology pundits have been predicting such a future for a number of years, but only with Madison has the necessary e-commerce, rights and distribution infrastructure been put in place. It's important to bear in mind that the initial Madison trial run will be aimed very much at domestic downloading and that neither IBM nor its music industry partners -- Sony, EMI, Bertelsmann, Time-Warner and Universal -- have described such a retail system in their comments on Madison. But it's clear that the technology (at least in principle) can easily be extended that way. In fact, Madison actually makes more sense as a retail-oriented system, since relatively few music fans will be keen on buying a CD-R to punch out discs and printing downloaded album artwork on their cheap colour inkjet. For many listeners, getting the whole package of sleeve notes, lyrics and cover art is as important as the tracks themselves. And the best way of obtaining a high quality package will be through the more advanced downloading, disc duplication and printing technologies that only retail stores will be able to afford. While the numerous predictions of the size of the Internet music market over the next few years all vary in their optimism, they nevertheless all concur that the bulk of music sales will still come through traditional outlets for the short to medium term. Madison -- at least as far as the companies concerned are willing to say -- allows that sector to take full advantage of the flexibility offered by current suppliers but offer a far wider range of titles. Finally, it's interesting that the music companies involved in Madison used IBM's announcement to reiterate their support for the Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI). Whatever music format and anti-piracy system the SDMI eventually backs will be added into the EMMS infrastructure, either alongside IBM's encryption and protection mechanisms or in their place. That's a neat move on IBM's part that keeps its own work separate from the 'MP3 vs the music industry' debate and ensures that continued conflict there doesn't hold up the development of the infrastructure that the company hopes will deliver all music in the future irrespective of its format. ®
Tony Smith, 09 Feb 1999
The Register breaking news

Lycos merger to form e-commerce giant

The diversified US media company, USA Networks, is to acquire Lycos, The Register can confirm. The new company, USA/Lycos, will be one of the largest e-commerce groups in the world and the only global Internet portal with local content, auctions and a direct commerce business, the company said. On the Internet, USA/Lycos will reach around 30 million people through its network of Web sites and will have interests or holdings in Canada, Mexico, South America, Asia, Europe and Australia. The new company will rely heavily on the e-commerce infrastructure of the Home Shopping Network, the electronic television retailer and Ticketmaster, the ticketing company. Barry Diller, chairman and CEO of USA Networks, will become the chairman of USA/Lycos. Robert Davis, president and CEO of Lycos, will become president and CEO of the new Company and will join its board of directors. "This places all the necessary ingredients for electronic information and commerce, from 'old' soup to 'new' nuts, into one centrally and aggressively managed enterprise," said Diller. "There is no excuse now for us not to be a dominant player as the world continues its transition towards interactive systems." According to Davis, Lycos has not only survived the portal wars, it has now vaulted past its competition and dwarfed them in revenue, earnings and cash flow. "Our combination of commerce, global and localised content and community delivers unprecedented value to consumers, advertisers and commerce partners in a way no other entity can," he said. Although subject to regulatory approval, the deal is scheduled to be completed by Q2 1999. ®
Tim Richardson, 09 Feb 1999
The Register breaking news

BT jumps on free ISP bandwagon

BT has buckled under pressure from the Freeserve and other subscription-free Internet access providers and scrapped its pay-as-you-go Click Internet access, replacing it with a new free service. The launch of BTClickFree was made just four months after the UK's biggest telecomms company launched BTClick, which charged 1p a minute above the standard call charge for Internet access. And it comes less than 24 hours after BT -- along with its partners News Corporation and United News & Media -- said it would stop charging for its online information service LineOne. The new service requires no registration and is available immediately. Telephone technical support will be charged at 50 pence a minute. BT's Click partnerships with portals Yahoo.co.uk and Excite.co.uk will continue being charged at the old rate. John Swingewood, BT's director of Internet and multimedia, said: "BT has introduced ClickFree in response to customer demand for a free service combining reliability and the quality of service which they have come to expect from BT." A spokesman for BT attempted to divert attention from the shift in strategy saying that Click was just "a trial" and that the company had been working on a subscription-free service since Autumn last year. This U-turn by BT, which has until now doggedly refused to comment that it was to introduce a subscription-free service, will further isolate AOL UK, which has continued to stand firm against providing any form of subscription-free service. Yesterday, a spokeswoman for AOL UK reaffirmed that it had no intention to scrap its subscription charges saying that the service was attracting new members despite the explosion of subscription free services. Whether it will maintain this position after today's announcement remains to be seen. ®
Tim Richardson, 09 Feb 1999
The Register breaking news

Marimba IPO imminent

Internet 'push' technology developer Marimba looks set to file for in IPO on Monday, according to a source close to the company cited in a Wired news report. It is believed Morgan Stanley Dean Witter will underwrite the offering. Hints that the once-feted company was preparing an IPO emerged last month (see earlier story). The reports immediately attracted the attention of investors delirious over the high prices of Internet stocks. Marimba itself continued to keep the low profile it has maintained since it retuned its strategy to promote its Castanet product as an application and information delivery system for corporate networks rather than an Internet broadcasting technology. It was as the latter than the Java-based Castanet had won so many plaudits for Marimba when the software was launched back in 1996. ®
Tony Smith, 09 Feb 1999
The Register breaking news

BO creates big stink with Brio

Business Objects (BO) has been caught out in what a Brio executive described as a big "fib" today. But the row depends on whether tool maker Brio or BO is or is not IBM's preferred tool supplier for slicing data cubes. Two weeks ago, BO issued a press release saying that IBM was reselling its products. That cut straight across IBM's plans for its meta-data warehousing tools, which are in the arms of Brio. Brio complained straight away to Big Blue and asked IBM to make BO issue a retraction. According to our sources, a senior VP below IBM's CEO Lou Gerstner told BO: "Make that so." The result was a re-issued press release without the offending fourth paragraph. Now Brio is taking tougher action against BO and asking IBM whether it really wants this sort of stuff put out in its name and asking for a firm retraction. At press time, that retraction from BO had not materialised. ®
Mike Magee, 09 Feb 1999
The Register breaking news

Intel EPIC roadmap attempts to unite IA-32 and PA-RISC

An Intel downloadable document has revealed more about its EPIC 64-bit architecture than most of us would want to know. The document, written by Intel fellow John Crawford and HP lead architect Jerry Huck, goes into massive detail about the future shape of software to come. Currently, according to the presentation, mispredictions limit performance and small blocks restrict code scheduling freedom. Then follows an argument about so-called "big endian" and "little endian" architecture -- one which the 64-bit Alpha architecture seems to circumvent. "Branching is a barrier," proclaims the joint presentation, and load delays are compounded by machine widths. The explicit parallelism that HP and Intel talkabout will make it explicit in machine code, rather than in software. Here, Intel and HP talk about their "Three Es" -- Expose, Enhance and Exploit. Both IA-32 and PA-RISC will use EPIC technology, according to the leaked presentation. According to HP and Intel, explicit parallelism will break through the CISC and RISC argument, by destroying sequential execution. EPIC will use one basic block and the new compiler will give a larger scheduling scope, with predication in nearly all instructions. Half of all branches will be removed, according to Intel and HP. Both companies use a classic chess board scene to show that they have the answer to solving the Big Endian-Little Endian problem. In their view, "speculation" takes up nine cycles with three potential mispredicts, while "predication" takes up seven cycles with only one potential misdirect. The document is on Intel's ftp download site. ®
Mike Magee, 09 Feb 1999
The Register breaking news

Microsoft, Intel fall out over Merced

Sources close to Intel architects told The Register late today that there is now a ruckus between them and engineers from Microsoft. The problem is that compilers produced for Merced do not perform inherent parallelism in the codelines and Intel engineers have now gone back to the drawing board. The situation between the two companies has become so bad that Intel engineers working on site have stopped checking Win64 code. Just before Christmas, we reported that Microsoft engineers had succeeded in booting Win64 on the Alpha platform. Compiler performance, our sources maintain, is out by a factor of five and this is likely to lead to a delay in the 64 bit Intel chip. Meanwhile, Merced is threatened by Compaq's Alpha EV68 platform, which will be a 0.18 micron part. And Merced's die size is likely to be three times bigger than this particular rev of Alpha. This all makes us wonder about how cosy Eckhard Pfeiffer and Andy Grove are these days... ® See also Compaq boots 64-bit Alpha server
Mike Magee, 09 Feb 1999