IBM is confident it will announce an Itanium-based workstation the day after Intel is expected to release the processor sometime in late March.
Big Blue plans to use the chip in a new range of IntelliStation workstations it has codenamed Rattler.
The system will sit above IBM's existing E Pro, M Pro and Z Pro systems, and use the 460 GX chipset. It will run at either 733Mhz or 800Mhz and boast 16Gb of memory - up from the 4Gb offered by IBM's current high-end workstation.
Although IBM said it hopes to release Itanium-based workstations before its rivals, it acknowledged that many users would likely delay implementation until McKinley - Intel's second-generation IA-64bit processor - appears sometime in 2002.
"Itanium is a dramatically new computing environment," said Rick Rudd, IntelliStation's product manager, who added that the mass market would probably wait until the technology has been tried and tested, and is more cost effective, before implementing.
Rudd believes early adopters will be large companies wanting to take advantage of 64bit computing for intensive engineering, financial applications and digital content creation, such as animation.
IBM has ported about 10 applications to the platform and said it could match or surpass the 209-strong software packages available for its existing 32bit workstations during the next year.
It is unlikely that customers will run their existing 32bit applications in the new environment because of compatibility issues, said Rudd.
IBM said 64bit Linux from Red Hat, Turbo Linux, SuSE and Caldera will be available at the same time as Itanium is released, while AIX 5L - IBM's next-generation Unix operating system - will be available in April. Whistler, the 64bit version of Windows 2000, is expected to follow a few months after that, said Rudd.
He declined to comment on pricing, but said Rattler would be priced higher than IBM's existing high-end Z Pro workstation, which costs between $3500 and $8500.
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