Intel has finalised the design of its highly anticipated Merced processor and will soon ship sample chips.
An Intel spokesman told PC Week: "We'll have sample quantities shipping this quarter." He said that the company should begin shipping bulk quantities of the processor to system builders in the middle of next year.
Merced will be the first Intel processor to be based on IA64 architecture.
Hewlett-Packard co-developed the architecture, which will also offer compatitibility with HP's PA-Risc processors.
Although IA-32 code will run on IA-64, performance increases will be seen only if source code is recompiled with special compilers that use the hardware's ability to execute multiple instructions in parallel.
Intel has set up a $250 million (£161 million) fund to encourage software vendors to recompile its software for the new chip (see PC Week, 11 May).
The Intel spokesman said: "Obviously, you need to recompile your code to get a performance increase. You don't just lay your old code on the chip and get an instant performance improvement."
Because Merced represents the first generation of a completely new Intel architecture, companies may choose to wait for its successor, codenamed McKinley, allowing time for potential bugs to be ironed out.
This is particularly important with IA-64 because the architecture is planned for use in high-end applications.
Intel told PC Week that it expects to deliver McKinley in late 2001 and believes that it will roughly double the performance of Merced.
Microsoft is working on a 64-bit implementation of Windows NT designed to run on Merced. A spokesman told PC Week that the company is still on track to release the software at the same time as Merced ships in bulk.
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