Intel last week sketched out its microprocessor road map, including plans for a new 32-bit microarchitecture which over time will replace the current P6 design on which Intel's Pentium II processors are based.
The new design will make its debut in workstations, servers and high-end desktop PCs, and includes a number of technology improvements that will allow Intel processors to execute software applications more quickly, said Fred Pollack, an Intel director and Intel Fellow with Intel's Microprocessor Products Group.
The first chip to sport the new architecture, code-named Foster, is due to appear in late 2000 or early 2001. The chip is expected to have a clock speed of at least 1 Gigahertz, and will be targeted at the volume workstation and server markets served today by Intel's Pentium II Xeon chips.
At about the same time, Intel will introduce another processor based on the new architecture code-named Willamette, which will target the high-end desktop PC space where Intel currently sells its Pentium II chips. Like Foster, Willamette will target clock speeds of 1GHz, Pollack said.
With a 64-bit processor due out next year and a new 32-bit architecture on the way, Intel's product road map suddenly looks quite complex. The chip giant may have felt the need to give its manufacturing partners - and the public - time to prepare for their arrival, said Rob Enderle, an analyst with Giga Information Group.
Enderle and another analyst also noted that it will be many years before Intel's 64-bit architecture comes down to the desktop level, and said the chip giant therefore needs an updated 32-bit design to fill a gap in what is becoming an increasingly specialised PC market.
"This shows that there's still plenty of life left in Intel's 32-bit road map, which is good news because it's going to be an awfully long time before any of us can consider buying a mainstream 64-bit desktop PC," said Mike Feibus, principal analyst with Mercury Research.
Both analysts said the new Intel architecture sounds impressive, at least in theory.