17th October 1999 Archive
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Ferry Laptops across the Mersey
What do you call a Scouser (someone from Liverpool) in a suit? The defendant. And what do you call a Scouser in a semi-detached house? A burglar.
Business 17 07:26
Willamette demo expected Jan2K, Intel may intro 800MHz Cu soon...
It's a while since we sat down and took a cool hard look at Intel's processor plans. Plans, a little like budgets, are subject to the famous Grove's Law. We've just invented this law, but it has validity as it has served Andy & Co pretty well ever since the 286 debacle 15 years back. Grove's Law states: "You will draw up roadmaps which follow the terrain unless you need to suddenly dig tunnels, build bridges, or scrap the whole project if it all goes terribly wrong." In some ways, Intel's approach to future roadmaps is a little like Sim City 3000. Some large projects end up with a great big letter X against them, meaning that the structure needs to be demolished. These are what Grove's Law describes as major infection, sorry inflexion points, where suddenly you are at a crossroads on your roadmap, and there are major roadworks ahead. We will start with Willamette This IA-32 design was supposed to be in place during 1999 but Intel roadmaps follow the terrain. Last year's disastrous launch of the Celeron forced an infection point on the corporation and it had to do something as smaller players of the like of Cyrix, IDT, AMD et al looked as though they might grab serious market share from the giant. Anyway, the introduction of Coppermine technology has diverted many people's brains away from Willamette but our information is that Intel is working flat out to demo the first fruits of this secret project at trade shows in January next year. Some have even suggested that Intel may be able to show demonstrations this year, but the only suitable trade show left to do that is Comdex/Fall, which is not an Intel sort of venue anyway. Coppermine, Cashcades et al Anyone who reads The Register ever listen to opera? There's one really good hip-hop track, the Anvil Chorus in a Verdi opera, where in the background you can hear the blacksmiths hammering away as the music plays and the fat ladies sing. And the Intel spin-merchants have really hit the anvil with their Coppermine spin-hammers so many times this year that it will be a relief when the first of these chips are eventually released in only a week or so. But Intel has a surprise in for us. Intel loves surprises. Being a bellwether of the entire US stock market, it likes to hit its shareholders with pleasant, rather than unpleasant surprises. So our information is that just two shakes of a lamb's tail after it announces its 733MHz CuMine processors, it will hit us with an 800MHz part. More is promised very soon afterwards. A reaction to AMD? No, say Intel hammers of spin, this was always on the roadmap. Further, plans for Cashcades, also to be introduced as part of the Coppermine experience, are already far advanced. Our information is that a 2Mb on-die version of a Xeon is likely in the New Year, to be followed not too long afterwards by further on-cache introductions. As Raghu Murthi, Intel's workstation marchitecture manager said to us on Friday, expect those Coppermine implementations to happen in Xeons first. But not that far ahead of desktops, is our best belief. Celeron: the chip that likes to say:Cheap We now have absolute evidence that the Celeron III is a goer but the only question is when, not if. The first ones will have a 128K cache on die and we also expect them to come in the infamous 370 pin socket. The Pentium II, in the words of Monty Python, is deceased. As Intel ratches up its Coppermine technology well into the first half of next year, the old lamps will give way to the new Celerons with the P3 core. Will these have CPU ID numbers? Our bet is yes, and why not. Intel successfully rode the wave of the libertarians in the US, most of whom complained unsuccessfully about the ID earlier this year. And what of the new Screaming Sindie instructions? Intel is readying these for its Itanium-Merced, and while it may implement them in the Pentium III first, we suspect it will hide this particular light under that particular bushel. We have seen the roadmap that calls the Celeron III the...err..Celeron III. Future roadblocks might call for a name change. For the sake of those for whom a picture tells a thousand words, we have bunged up the internal Intel desktop roadmap here, complete with the new labels and prices well into next year. It's 54K, for the bandwidth-challenged, plus it's a slow site. Nomenclature Anyone ever read that HG Wells short story where there was a guy who had one eye while everyone else was blind? This was parodied by UK science fiction writer John Wyndham in his Day of the Triffids. The plants made everyone blind, so they were helpless, while the blind people could find their way around because they were used to it. After being hit by Intel marchitecture for a large number of years, we'd prefer to not notice name changes, but we can't help seeing them. It is, after all, like Yule logs and Wimpy Bars, now a tradition, and not to be trifled with. We have already reported here that Intel is changing its naming habits so that bewildered computer manufacturers and consumers, never mind its distributors and dealers, can tell which Pentium III has a 100MHz front side bus, which Coppermine .18 micron techology and which have both, while some have a 133MHz front side bus. Our information is that there's a further nomenclature change on Intel's famous roadmaps. Motherboards will also benefit from this change. Mobos will have an initial letter which will tell you which sector they are aimed at. This has logic to it. Servers will use the letter S, workstations will use the letter W, and desktops will use the letter M (surely, D?). The Pine server board, as an example, will be called the S840P-DP. The suffix is DP for dual processors, QP for quad processors, and so it goes. We have had someone suggest that Intel will only sell its Outrigger OR840 mobo to PC manufacturers, but our evidence suggests that these are still for sale in the channels, in the wind up to the 25th. Intel would have to scrap its marchitecture collateral if it takes that decision between now and Week 44. But that's not unheard of...is it? Look (as Tony Blair might say), it's really easy. Desktop products are named after towns and cities, workstations after anything to do with the maritime, and Internet (er, sorry server) products like Merlot and Zinfandel, named after plonk. BTW, we can confirm that Timna is a completely different kettle of fish... indeed, a reader has just emailed us to tell us that Timna is a town in the South of Israel which boasts an abandoned coppermine... ® *Factoid. The "keep left" is a reference to an episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus, 30 years old last week, which showed Michael Palin being ganged up on by street furniture telling drivers to keep left. Not everyone drives on the right in the world, but Sweden changed from left to right a good while back with foreseeable roadmap changes.
Business 17 15:49
While Q wriggles in agony, technology moves on
Remember the Alpha processor? We do, and despite Compaq's well documented problems this year, the engineers seem to be plugging on. When Intel first started talking about the Merced processor all those years ago, we remember writing a story which quoted a DEC spokesman saying that the technology of the Alpha was future proof until the year 2010. A lot of water has passed through the fab plants since then but the Alpha engineers have not given up on their ideals, even though the emphasis in the industry has changed from architecture to marchitecture as Intel refined its spin-doctor techniques after the FDIV misadventure. So while Intel -- and AMD -- got plenty of coverage from the last Microprocessor Forum, Compaq's Alpha engineers seem to have got precious little. But it's worth looking at the roadmap just in case substance (architecture) ever triumphs over style (marchitecture) in the chip industry. Joel Emer, a principal development engineer at CompaQ, talked big megahertz at the Forum. The company's EV8 architecture, which uses a .125 (.13 shurely?) CMOS process, uses a copper interconnect and will reach 2.0GHz. Compaq does not say quite how much level two cache will appear on future Alphas, but our information is it will get to 4Mb far faster than Intel. Of course, Intel makes Alpha chips for Compaq now -- are the Chinese Walls high enough to prevent engineers peeking over at the open Alpha kimonos? Compaq is hoping to use Alpha processors more, rather than less in the future, and our information is it will attempt to shift fabbing away from Intel and over to Big Blue. That's a lot safer than allowing Chipzilla to get its mits on the parts. Emer promised that Q will produce additional multistream performance on the Alpha with multithreading, but also without having to get screwdrivers, hammers and slide rules out to re-architect the processor and at little extra cost. Without entering into territory where we might stumble into potholes, the Q plans for Alpha seem to predicate a new kind of chip parallelism. In other words, and as far as we understand it, the Alpha will be able to run four multiple instruction streams simultaneously on one processor, making one Alpha look a four-way system. EV8 has a direct Rambus interface and will use ccNuma for up to 512 way symmetric multiprocessing (SMP), said Emer. It also offers four way simultaneous multithreading. This seems like powerful stuff. We're sure we read some weeks back that particle center CERN had dumped its Alpha machines. Now, we learn that Intel has persuaded a "large worldwide organisation" to go with x.86 based workstations. But will the Alpha last until 2010 or will it be the chip that time forgot? The computer industry has a habit of relegating good but failed technology to a dusty filing cabinet in a forgotten building somewhere in a forgotten time. Nevertheless, the lessons, at least by the architects, are not forgotten. As a reader points out to us last week, a similar system to Rambus memory was employed by the military a considerable time back... Price versus performance, architecture over marchitecture or style over substance? And is the Alpha safe in Capellas' hands? If only Compaq would pick up the blower and invite us to learn more...we're interested. ®
Business 17 17:27
Britain's first convicted Internet stalker has been jailed for three months after continuing to harass his victim. Computer programmer Nigel Harris, 24, turned up at his former girlfriend's house with a bottle of champagne, just five weeks after "getting away" with a conditional discharge for the original offence. He was thrown in to prison for ignoring the restraining order, forbidding him from making contact with Claire Dawson, and imposing a one-mile exclusion zone around her house. Harris met victim Claire Dawson at Cambridge, where they were both students. They had a stormy two-year relationship, which ended last July. And then Harris' stalking campaign began. He used the Internet to "wage a malicious and unrelenting campaign against her", according to report of the trial in The Guardian. Harris sent Dawson "offensive emails at the children's charity where she worked. They featured sinister messages, including references to The Shining, the horror film in which actor Jack Nicholson tries to kill his wife and child". If that weren't enough, Harris sent more emails quoting romantic song lyrics in a effort to win back Dawson. Apparently, Harris has a new girlfriend. Lucky her. ®
Business 17 22:05
No, it's not The Register
Congratulations to NMTV, parent company of Silicon.com --the British IT news service targeting corporates -- which has completed its latest round of financing. The £11 million slug, supplied by a consortium of British and European VC money, will come in handy for expansion both here and overseas. And now for the nonsense. The Sunday Times reckons NMTV will be worth £800 million, when the company IPOs "within nine months", making it "potentially the biggest [Net float] in Britain behind Freeserve". Talk about Inflating the Bubble Economy. How does the ST arrive at such a figure? NMTV is an altogether more substantial business than The Register but it has fewer readers (just like VNUNet and ZD UK). By all accounts, it's a well-run business -- and the blue-chip backers are proof of this. But £800 million? In nine months? Look at ZDNet, the world's biggest collection of IT sites, with 8.6 million unique visitors (in August). This makes it the world's 16th biggest Web property. Its market cap is $1.437 billion. Annual revenues for its latest year is $56.143 million, against $32.218 million for the year before. OK, so it's loss-making, but then we suspect NMTV is loss-making, too, on a lot less revenue. At least ZDNet has financial muscle, a name brand worldwide and global distribution. NMTV is backed by financial heavyweights, but it has a long way to go before it turns Silicon into a worldwide force. ®
Business 17 22:09