Intel Corp. will announce next week that its first 64-bit processor, code-named Merced, will be delayed by about six months to mid-2000.
The chip was originally expected to be delivered in the second half of 1999, but process management issues and possibly technical problems have pushed back its release, according to sources.
Intel executives began notifying OEMs of the delay this week, sources said. The intention is to "backfill" the gap with an advanced 32-bit processor such as Willamette or Tanner. The Tanner processor is 32-bit but fits into a 64-bit Merced slot, the so-called Slot M.
No benchmarks on Tanner are available, but analysts expect its performance to exceed that of the Pentium II Xeon processor, which will be introduced next month.
An Intel spokeswoman in Santa Clara, Calif., declined to comment on Merced.
Although Merced-based systems are not expected to reach volume status for some time, its delay will have a serious ripple effect on the industry. For example, it could have a major impact on the delivery of Microsoft’s Corp.’s first 64-bit version of Windows NT. Microsoft and Intel have long planned on synchronizing the release of their respective 64-bit products.
Jim Allchin, senior vice president of Microsoft's Personal and Business Systems Group, said at April’s WinHEC that the Redmond, Wash., company had 64-bit NT running on a Merced emulator.
Hewlett-Packard Co., which co-designed the chip with Intel, is positioning IA-64 as the centerpiece of its enterprise strategy.
In addition, Digital Equipment Corp., Sun Microsystems Inc., Santa Cruz Operation Inc. and several other companies intended to have their 64-bit OSes available according to Merced’s timetable.
The delay will also create a larger window of opportunity for makers of RISC processors and systems to fill users’ performance needs. Pentium II workstations and servers have increasingly taken market share away from entry-level Unix systems. Intel’s Pentium II Xeon, which has up to 2MB of Level 2 cache, is expected to start infringing on the mid-range of Unix systems.
The Merced delay comes as Federal Trade Commission attorneys reportedly prepare an anti-trust case against the company.