Intel makes a play in high-end workstation, graphics market

Intel makes a play in high-end workstation, graphics market

Attempting to appeal to high-end workstation users, Intel this week is making a series of announcements regarding investments and systems specifications designed to boost computing and graphics processing power for machines based on its chip designs.

At the Siggraph '98 trade show in Orlando, Florida, Intel announced that it plans to present high-volume motherboard and systems specifications in the fourth quarter at the Intel Developer's Forum.

And yesterday the chip-industry giant announced that it will invest $US24 million in high-end graphics software developer Evans & Sutherland Computer, as part of a deal to further accelerate development of graphics and video subsystems for Intel-based workstations.

The specifications announced at Siggraph are chassis designs for midrange and high-end workstations called, respectively, WTX and WTX Pro. The specifications are meant to result in a simplified design process and reduced development costs for manufacturers making Intel-based workstations, Intel said.

The specifications comprise features such as dual processing, large system memories and high-bandwidth input/output.

The new specifications integrate the Accelerated Graphics Port (AGP) Pro interface design also announced at Siggraph. The AGP Pro specification is aimed at engineers and other professionals with high-end graphics requirements.

The AGP Pro includes designs for an enhanced connector, improved cooling system, and form factor designs for graphic-card size, Intel said. It also includes layout specifications that will allow it to work with current 32-bit chips and the forthcoming 64-bit, IA-64 processor architecture, also known as Merced and expected to be out in 2000, the company said.

Though Intel has been making inroads into the Unix-dominated workstation market, it has a lot of work to do to reach into higher-end applications.

"They've done pretty well on the low end, and have pretty good performance for the price, with the Xeon processors," said Roger Kay, an analyst with International Data Corp in Framingham, Massachusetts. Kay was referring to the recently introduced Intel Xeon chip, aimed at servers and high-end workstations.

But to make inroads into the Unix-dominated high-end arena, Microsoft Corp. also has to further develop the NT operating system, which is geared at the workstation market.

"There's still a lack of acceptance [of Intel machines] when you get to the midrange and higher end of the market. Many people feel that NT 4.0 is not up for the job," said Kay. Whether NT 5.0, due out next year, will satisfy these users is still open to question, he said.

Meanwhile, Intel announced that WTX and WTX Pro workstation specifications will be taken up by manufacturers including Compaq, Fujitsu, Hewlett-Packard, and NEC. And at least one manufacturer -- Hewlett-Packard -- said it plans to release WTX-compliant motherboards and chassis next year.

Meanwhile Intel will get help on further designs for high-end graphics systems as a result of its agreement, announced today, with Evans & Sutherland. The $US24 million stake in the company that Intel is taking will give it an 8.2 per cent share of the company, and eventually an 11.3 per cent share if an option to purchase additional shares is exercised, Intel said.

The pact calls for the companies to work on boards and components for workstations designed to offer advanced visual computing features including high-end special effects for movies and video, 3D animation, mechanical computer-aided design (MCAD), medical and scientific applications.

Evans & Sutherland develops the REALimage graphics technology for three-dimensional applications.

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