The battle to dominate the next-generation 64bit chip market has begun in earnest, with Intel and Hewlett-Packard (HP) releasing their Itanium microprocessor and Transmeta planning to use Advanced Micro Devices' HyperTransport technology to develop 64bit processors.
Intel hopes Itanium will put it in contention for the high-end server and workstation market, an area in which it does not dominate.
The shift in strategy follows the relatively poor uptake of the Pentium 4 in the PC market. It sees Intel focusing more strongly on servers, where the demand for significant increases in memory space still exists — 64bit architecture increases memory by orders of magnitude over 32bit technology.
Malcolm Penn, chief executive of semiconductor analyst Future Horizons, says Intel had previously shied away from areas it did not dominate, and servers represent just 15% of the chip market.
"Intel's challenge is that it is now competing with powerful incumbents such as Sun [Microsystems]," he said. "Intel's message on servers has been a little muddled. It's not a natural progression; it doesn't have dominance in this market. Its basic strategy is if it cannot dominate, it tends to get out."
HP, IBM, Dell Computer, Compaq Computer, Silicon Graphics and others are planning to launch systems built around the Itanium. Such systems are expected to cost at least $7000.
Meanwhile Transmeta has licensed AMD's x86-64 and Hyper-Transport technology to develop 64bit processors. The HyperTransport bus moves data up to 48 times faster than Intel's Peripheral Component Interconnect bus.
Transmeta also plans to incorporate HyperTransport into the next generation of its low-power Crusoe processor. Originally designed as a processor for laptops, some companies are considering using it for servers. Sun and Cisco are also considering using HyperTransport.
Despite Intel's launch of Itanium, many companies plan to wait for the McKinley, a more powerful 64bit chip, operating at 1.2GHz at least, which Intel and HP are due to launch next year. In some senses, Itanium is seen as a development platform for McKinley.
Mark Hudson, HP marketing manager in the US, said: "We've done a lot of work to make it a viable transition. You can literally move your application running on PA-RISC today over to the Itanium processor without any change."
Intel and HP got together as HP had a prototype 64bit architecture mapped out five years ago and approached Intel for help in developing it. But, according to Penn, Intel has driven the development strategy, rendering HP effectively a customer, although one likely to enjoy a special deal.
Intel is producing the Itanium and initial McKinley chips with a 0.18µm process. It plans to move to a 0.13µm for a later generation.