New x86 clones & Linus Torvalds (Linux fame)

Jim Choate ravage at
Sun Feb 8 11:03:32 PST 1998

Forwarded message:

> X-within-URL:

>                       HOT X86 CHIPS FOR '98 AND BEYOND
>    [INLINE] Launching yet another x86 microprocessor into a field already
>    crowded with clones isn't a good way to bet your company's future. But
>    that's just what two startups and one CPU stalwart are doing, in a bid
>    to beat Intel at its own game.
>    The new ventures--Centaur Technology Inc. (Austin, Texas) and
>    Transmeta Corp. (Santa Clara, Calif.)--and long-time player Advanced
>    Micro Devices Inc. (Sunnyvale, Calif.) each has its own twist on what
>    it will take to survive in the cutthroat x86 world in 1998 and beyond.
>    Let's take them one at a time.
>    Centaur, founded by renowned microprocessor architect Glenn Henry, is
>    focusing on the low end of the market, where sub-$1,000 desktop
>    machines and sub-$2,000 notebooks rule. Centaur's offering, launched
>    only a few months ago, is called the IDT WinChip C6 ("IDT" stands for
>    Integrated Device Technology Inc., which owns Centaur). It's a
>    Pentium-class processor that supports the MMX multimedia
>    instruction-set extensions, a Socket-7 interface, and comes in speed
>    grades of 180-MHz and 200-MHz. Centaur is positioning the C6 as a
>    direct alternative to Intel's Pentium with MMX, AMD's K6, and Cyrix's
>    6x86MX microprocessors.
>    From a design standpoint, what's interesting about the C6 is that
>    Henry chose not to follow the reigning trends in chip architecture.
>    Instead, he took a downsized approach, implementing just those
>    features he needed to deliver decent performance in a high-volume,
>    low-cost CPU.
>    "The biggest thing we did is throw out conventional thinking," Henry
>    told me when we met recently. "We came to the conclusion that the
>    added benefit of a lot of computer-science things wasn't worth the
>    effort. We're not superscalar--we don't do out-of-order execution.
>    Everyone else is designing 4-way superscalar processors, so we did a
>    6-way chip."
>    In designing the C6, Henry said his team found that, as CPU clock
>    speeds approach 200-MHz, nearly half the time is spent waiting on the
>    bus. So, Henry outfitted the C6 with a huge translation-look-aside
>    buffer, as well as a second-level TLB, to reduce bus utilization and
>    cut that wait-time to the bone.
>    Also notable is the fact that Centaur is a tiny outfit that began life
>    a scant two years ago. "Intel would like the world to believe it takes
>    tens of years and dozens of people to design a microprocessor," Henry
>    said. Looking at the results rolling out of Centaur, it's obvious what
>    a dedicated group of engineers can accomplish.
>    Over at AMD, a somewhat larger engineering team is already burning the
>    midnight oil to design the K7 (code-named "Argon"), which will compete
>    with Intel's upcoming 64-bit Merced CPU.
>    AMD has a project team hard at work on K7, but has leaked few details.
>    Publicly, AMD wants to talk more about its new MMX-enhanced K6
>    processors. But K7 will be the key to AMD's long-term future, since a
>    64-bit chip is a must-have for any company that wants to remain a
>    viable alternative to Intel.
>    The few details we do know emerged in October in a keynote speech at
>    the Microprocessor Forum by AMD chairman Jerry Sanders. He said that
>    the K7 will run at clock speeds in excess of 500-MHz and will come in
>    a module that's mechanically--though not electrically--interchangeable
>    with Intel's Slot 1 connector. Most interesting was the news that K7
>    will use the bus protocol developed by Digital Equipment Corp. for its
>    Alpha EV-6 processor.
>    It's not clear how far along AMD is with the K7. Indeed, it will be a
>    daunting task. But AMD has two things going for it in its quest.
>    First, it is very strong in the simulation and verification
>    department--an important factor in avoiding design flaws like the
>    floating-point bug that struck Intel and its Pentium.
>    More important, AMD knows what it's like to wrestle with design
>    delays, which struck its K5 project. Concerns on the K6 job were
>    reportedly behind AMD's decision to purchase NexGen in January, 1996.
>    Indeed, the NexGen team provided the Nx586 core, which became the
>    basis for the K6.
>    The third, and potentially most interesting, effort involves
>    Transmeta, a startup formed less than three years ago by former Sun
>    Microsystems chip architect David Ditzel. Initial word had Transmeta
>    at work on a PowerPC clone. Then, the buzz was that the company was
>    designing a Java chip aimed at the nascent market for low-cost network
>    computers. Now, it seems that Transmeta's effort is focused more on an
>    x86 alternative that boasts either low-power, multimedia or
>    network-computer capabilities. Or perhaps all three.
>    One interesting tidbit to emerge from Transmeta is the news that it
>    has hired Linus Torvalds, the designer of the Linux operating system.
>    Apart from Torvalds' considerable software skills, he's plugged into
>    an influential community of Unix programmers, which could give
>    Transmeta a big leg up in any effort to design a processor tuned to
>    handle real-world networked applications.
>    Alexander Wolfe is EE Times' Managing Editor for computers and
>    communications

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