April 12, 2000 1:45 PM PDT

HP to ship powerful copper chip next year

Hewlett-Packard will ship its next-generation PA-RISC 8700 chip in the first half of 2001, the first chip from the company to incorporate copper technology.

The chip will be built on a 0.18-micron process--the size of the smallest feature--and will debut at a speed faster than 800 MHz, HP said. In addition, the 8700 has an extremely large 2.25MB of cache memory built into the chip to speed communications between the processor and the slower main memory.

The 8700 will be able to complete 3.2 billion calculations per second, HP said.

Shrinking the process size is standard for chip designers. It not only allows chips to run faster and use less electricity, but it also means more chips can be created from a single wafer of silicon crystal. That makes the manufacturing equipment more expensive but the chips themselves cheaper. Intel already has gone to a 0.18-micron process.

The 8700 is part of HP's two-pronged strategy to advance its own PA-RISC chips while adding Intel's upcoming IA-64 chip family into the HP product line. HP helped develop the architecture behind the IA-64 chips but has at least two more generations of PA-RISC chips after the 8700 under design.

Sun Microsystems prefers its own chips to Intel's, but IBM and Compaq Computer also will sell IA-64 systems. Only HP offers machines that can be upgraded to switch from one chip design to the other.

The first member of Intel's IA-64 line is the Itanium chip, due in machines at the end of this year. The next, McKinley, is expected a year later and is widely regarded as a more serious contender because companies will have had more time to rework hardware and software for the new design.

The PA-RISC family powers HP's Unix servers and workstations. Unix servers are part of a high-profile battle between HP, Sun, IBM and Compaq, as each tries to gain market share in the Internet business. HP's market share has been lagging compared with leader Sun, but it hopes its new high-end V-2600 server with PA-RISC 8600 chips will help it catch up.

IBM, Sun and Compaq, meanwhile, are moving ahead with their own new chip designs. IBM already has incorporated copper chips in its high-end Unix servers and is adding "silicon-on-insulator" technology to future chips.

Sun is about to release its UltraSparc III "Cheetah" chip, though it was scheduled to emerge at the end of 1999. And Compaq, in an effort to convince customers that its Alpha chip has a solid future, detailed in 1999 a feature that will allow future designs to cut idle time.


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