Chipmaker Intel is reportedly working on alternative technology for the high-end server market should its Itanium processor fail to make the grade for complex computing in the next decade.
The controversial move is apparently seen by some Intel executives as a tacit admission that Itanium, which cost an estimated $1bn and took seven years to develop, may be a flop.
The 64-bit processor, co-designed by Intel and Hewlett Packard, runs in servers and supercomputers.
According to a report in the San Jose Mercury News, Intel is to integrate capabilities into its next version of the Pentium family which allow the chip, codenamed Prescott, to run 32-bit applications as well as 64-bit versions of those applications.
These 'extensions' will turn the Prescott chip, due out late 2003 or 2004, into a 64-bit processor compatible with Intel's traditional x86 designs, like AMD's Hammer, and will make it compatible with existing Windows server software.
The chip would, however, require both hardware and software makers to come up with products that would use the 32-bit/64-bit design.
One of the stumbling blocks for Itanium, which has proved to be one of Intel's most ambitious launches, has been a lack of applications.
In the first full quarter of Itanium sales, manufacturers sold just $13.7m worth of servers containing the chip, which comes to less than 500 machines, according to IDC.
An Intel spokesman said that the company does not talk about unannounced products, but did admit that such processors are on the agenda for the company's developer forum, which is scheduled to take place on 25 February.
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