Intel Corp. formally introduced a high-powered microprocessor chip that could give desktop computer users previously undreamed of speed and capabilities.
International Business Machines Corp. and Ing. Olivetti were among 50 companies that already have made commitments to use the i860 chip, which could transform workstations into small supercomputers, Intel officials announced Monday.
“For a few years the use of supercomputers has been limited to very large companies, government contractors and sometime universities,” said Claude Leglise, marketing manager for Intel’s microprocessor division. “The difficulty is those machines are very expensive. What we hope to provide is the ability to make supercomputing affordable.”
80 Million Calculations
Intel’s i860 chip was touted as the first 64-bit microprocessor capable of performing operations typically associated only with supercomputing systems and three-dimensional graphics workstations.
Developed through reduced instruction set computing technology, or RISC, the chip is crammed with more than 1 million transistors, nearly four times the number found on current generation microprocessors. The chip, operating on instructions that are as long as those in mainframes and supercomputers, can perform up to 80 million calculations a second.
“The level of integration and performance (the i860) provides puts supercomputing power in the hands of virtually anyone who can afford a desktop computer,” said David L. House, Intel senior vice president and general manager of its microcomputer components group.
Earlier this month, House said Intel would make the i860, which the company initially had called the N-10, available as a helper chip as well as making it available to other companies as a central processor for engineering and graphics workstations and multi-user computers.
As a helper chip, the i860 could handle the “grunt work” of high-speed, repetitive calculations while a computer’s main processor handles more complex tasks.
But because the 33 megahertz i860 is built with RISC technology it cannot be used as a plug-in replacement for the microprocessors used in industry-standard personal computers.
“We expect the i860 to be found in computers selling for between $10,000 and $25,000,” Leglise said.
RISC is so significant because it represents leading edge semiconductor technology, which is used in computer workstations, the fastest growing segment of the computer business.
“Getting IBM as a user is an important feather in their cap,” said Daniel Klesken, an analyst with Montgomery Securities in San Francisco. “The RISC battle is heating up.”
IBM will use the i860 in an add-on board for its latest personal computer line called Micro Channel, while Olivetti plans to make the chip the centerpiece of a new line of minicomputers.
Intel comes late to the RISC game. Sun Microsystems Inc. and MIPS Computer Systems Inc. have been selling RISC technology for many months and Intel is now in direct competition with their products.
Motorola Inc. has also begun selling its RISC chip, the 88000 and today will unveil its first computer systems using the RISC technology.
Data General Corp. of Westboro, Mass., also is expected to introduce a line of computer workstations based on this chip at the Uniforum trade show in San Francisco this week.
RISC stands for Reduced Instruction Set Computing. Semiconductors using this technology amass computing ability once spread among many chips--such as graphics and number processing--onto a single chip.
It is a combination of hardware and software that deciphers the instructions that computers act on and executes them quickly.
The technology surfaced at IBM in the ‘70s. Its principal advantage: It puts the power of a giant mainframe computer into a relatively inexpensive, small machine.
Some experts believe that it will change computing in the ‘90s as much as the personal computer changed computing in the ‘80s.