New Chip Designs to Take Center Stage

By eweek  |  Posted 2001-10-08

While microprocessor sales have hit the skids, the industrywide PC slump apparently hasnt hindered engineering development by semiconductor companies seeking to provide faster, more efficient chips.

The worlds leading chip makers will convene in San Jose, Calif., next week for the annual Microprocessor Forum to unveil more than 30 processor designs.

"In spite of the economy, engineering innovations have not stopped," said Max Baron, an analyst with Cahners In-Stat/MDR, host of the conference, and editor in chief of the Microprocessor Report. "We even had to extend the conference an extra day to accommodate all the companies seeking to make presentations. I think thats very encouraging."

The forum will feature presentations on new technologies by Intel Corp., IBM, Advanced Micro Devices Inc. and Transmeta Corp., to name a few.

Intel, of Santa Clara, Calif., is expected to outline its long-term road maps for mobile, desktop and server processors and provide further details on its new hyperthreading technology, which it unveiled in August.

AMD, of Sunnyvale, Calif., will discuss its 64-bit Hammer architecture, the companys first 64-bit product, set for release next year. The chip will be targeted for use in high-end workstations and servers and is seen as key to AMDs efforts to break into the corporate market.

Unlike Intel, which developed a new architecture for its 64-bit processor—the Itanium—AMD will seek to extend the X86 design that forms the basis of Athlon and Pentium chips and bring it into the 64-bit arena.

AMDs presentation will come a week after the rollout of its 1.5GHz processor, code-named Palomino, thats meant to challenge Intel in the high-end PC market.

AMD started the year doing just that, increasing its market share 22 percent. The milestone sparked Intel—whose share dropped below its 80 percent comfort level—to respond aggressively, slashing prices and heavily courting PC makers with attractive joint-advertising support.

Intels efforts seem to be paying off. In the last two months, IBM and Gateway Inc. announced plans to phase out use of AMDs Athlon chips in favor of Intel products.

For its part, researchers with IBM, of Armonk, N.Y., will discuss at the forum new chip design techniques under development to reduce power consumption and cooling demands in future processors. IBM officials contend that their new techniques can lead to devices that operate on one-tenth of the power of current devices.

Transmeta, a designer of low-power processors based in Santa Clara, will offer the first public details of its upcoming 1GHz Crusoe processor, which it touts as a "system on a chip." The new Crusoe will integrate features normally found on chip sets into the processor itself to enable faster performance and reduce power consumption.

Among other chip makers slated to describe future products are Hewlett-Packard Co., which will detail innovations in its PA-RISC server chips; Compaq Computer Corp., which will detail the performance and features of its upcoming Alpha processor; and Sun Microsystems Inc., which will disclose its latest SPARC incarnation targeted at mid- and low-end servers, the UltraSparc IIIi.

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