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There's life after Merced for 32-bit chips

March 1, 1999
Web posted at: 1:25 p.m. EST (1825 GMT)

by Deni Connor

Network World Fusion

PALM SPRINGS, California (IDG) -- Intel's 64-bit Merced chip is supposed to ship by the middle of next year, but it will be a good deal longer than that before today's 32-bit world disappears.

IBM to disable serial number in Pentium III


Attendees of Intel's Developer Forum (IDF) last week were excited about the move from 32 to 64 bits. But that excitement was somewhat dampened by the reality that most software development, and most low-end servers, will revolve around the tried and true 32-bit architecture for years to come.

Intel itself pledges to boost 32-bit performance to the limit, even after its high-end line leaps to the Merced, also known as IA-64.

"We will continue to invest in whatever the laws of semiconductor physics will allow on a 32-bit architecture for servers and workstations," says John Miner, corporate vice president and general manager for the Enterprise Server Group at Intel. "As long as we can deliver benefit and value and meet customer needs, 32-bit processors will be available. We will introduce Cascades (a 32-bit upgrade) at the end of this year and Foster (another 32-bit upgrade) next year, and then we show (on our roadmap) some unnamed bubbles beyond that into 2001."

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Many of today's programs, such as word processors and low-end server applications, don't need a 64-bit boost. Others, such as databases and technical workstation programs, will benefit greatly from Merced.

And though many of these programs will run fine on Merced, to take advantage of the full speed boost, software must be rewritten. "The 64-bit architecture has a tremendous amount more scalability [than the 32-bit processor]. It will (boost) database and technical applications, and because of the parallelism of the architecture, encryption and Internet commerce applications will run better," says Intel's Miner. Intel I is planning its Merced forum and software developer tool kit rollout for April.

One management software vendor has a dual strategy. "Bindview will continue to support IA-32, as well as IA-64 platforms," says Scott Hutchinson, lead developer for Bindview Development, one of the few software vendors viewing the wares at IDF last week. Unlike other developers interviewed, Bindview has found the 64-bit move to be relatively painless. "In the development of our Windows NT products, we've seen that it is basically a simple recompile to move Bindview EMS from one platform to another," Hutchinson says. Bindview EMS is a management and systems administration package for Windows NT and NetWare.

What flavor to serve?

PC server vendors are also eyeing a dual strategy. Peter Glaskowsky, senior analyst for the Microprocessor Report in Sunnyvale, Calif., says that low-end servers will remain 32-bit, while high-end servers, such as HP's LXr 8000 will move to 64-bit. "If you look at entry-level servers, the pricing for Merced will not enter acceptable ranges until 2003 or 2004, and it could be a year or two longer than that," Glaskowsky says. "The first, and fastest transition will be database and online transaction processing at the very high end. While Merced may not offer the best price/performance, it certainly will have the best performance for Windows NT."

Compaq and Intel are in general agreement on the direction of microprocessors. There is indeed life for IA-32 after Merced. "Compaq will develop on both IA-32 and IA-64 platforms," says Paul Santeler, enterprise x86 segment director at Compaq. "When Merced is available, we will ship our high-end ProLiant servers on Merced, reserving 32-bit processors for our low- and middle-end servers. As price/performance levels out in the years after 2000, we will start to migrate our mid-range ProLiants to IA-64."

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