Intel Puts Bus Plan in Gear

Chip maker challenges AMD's HyperTransport architecture in bid to replace PCI in PCs, servers

Intel Corp., in what critics say is a bid to suppress growing support for a rivals technology, is leading an effort to develop a successor to the PCI bus, the crucial data transfer component inside PCs and servers.

The current PCI bus architecture "is starting to run out of gas," said Louis Burns, general manager of Intels Desktop Platforms Group, because the architecture can no longer keep up with todays faster microprocessors and memory modules.

The PCI architecture, like the ISA architecture that preceded it, met the computer industrys needs for about 10 years, Burns said last month at the Intel Developer Forum Conference in San Jose, Calif. Based on that historical standard, the industry needs to develop a PCI successor that will meet the demands over the next decade as CPUs scale up to 10GHz, he said.

Although Intel has yet to design such an I/O architecture, Burns said, he did dismiss a proposed replacement called HyperTransport, which was developed by rival chip maker Advanced Micro Devices Inc., in Sunnyvale, Calif.

AMDs proposed PCI successor has been gaining industry support. Just a week before Intels announcement, more than 100 companies pledged to support HyperTransport.

Slated to begin appearing in products later this year, HyperTransport is designed to move data at up to 6.5GB per second, more than 20 times faster than existing system interconnects. Among the companies pledging support are Cisco Systems Inc., Sun Microsystems Inc. and graphics-card maker Nvidea Corp.

Burns said that Intel, of Santa Clara, Calif., considered the technology but that HyperTransport "doesnt have the legs" to last 10 years, as, he said, Intels as-yet-undeveloped architecture will.

Critics say the timing of Intels announcement and its rejection of HyperTransport suggests that the giant chip maker was seeking to undermine its rival and reassert its leadership.

"Intel likes to have a substantial amount of control over the evolution of the PC platform," said Peter Glaskowsky, an analyst with MicroDesign Resources, in Sunnyvale, Calif. "It gives them better visibility into what they need to do with their processors, and it makes it possible for them to get chip sets out more quickly."

Nathan Brookwood, an analyst with insight 64, in Saratoga, Calif., said Intel will likely face a battle to draw support away from AMDs technology, especially since Intel wont offer an initial set of specifications for its design until its next Developer Forum, in August.

"I suspect HyperTransport will continue to gain some momentum over the next year, while Intel will still be just putting together its little committee to figure out what it thinks the new I/O architecture should look like," Brookwood said. Although HyperTransport currently may lack the performance to keep up with future 10GHz processors, he said, the architecture can be altered to address those needs.