Merced is more than a year down the road, but Intel Corp. and its partners are ramping up their preparations for the 64-bit processor's arrival.
Two important preparations leading to the completion of the prototype system are the delivery of SDKs (software development kits) and system design reviews between OEMs and Intel. Both those efforts will begin in earnest this quarter, said Intel officials at the company's Developers Forum here last week.
Intel's Merced design partner, Hewlett-Packard Co., this week will release a software transition kit that will help developers move HP-UX 11 applications from HP's PA-RISC architecture to Merced. The kit is available for free download at www.hp.com.
HP, in Palo Alto, Calif., will join Sun Microsystems Inc., of Mountain View, Calif., which last week released its SDK for Solaris-based Merced applications.
Microsoft Corp. will distribute an SDK as part of Beta 2 for Windows NT 5.0 that will enable developers to create applications that are compatible with the 64-bit version of NT, said Ed Muth, product marketing manager for personal business systems at Microsoft, in Redmond, Wash.
Sources said the Windows NT 5.0 beta is due in April.
That SDK will not include 64-bit compilers, which are necessary to write native 64-bit applications. Microsoft may ship a full 64-bit NT SDK by the end of the year, Muth said.
Intel and its partners will spend much of this year preparing for the first Merced samples, which will be available in limited quantities to select OEMs in the fourth quarter, officials said during interviews at the developers conference.
At that time, OEMs will build prototypes of Merced-based systems, which could run early versions of IA-64 applications.
The first systems and software built around Merced won't officially hit the market until late 1999, but development time is precious even now, because of the complexity of the architecture.
"If [developers] are not designing for Merced today, they're behind," said Ronald Curry, director of marketing in Intel's Microprocessor Products Group, in Santa Clara, Calif.
Currently, system vendors, including Compaq Computer Corp., HP, IBM, Sequent Computer Systems Inc., Data General Corp. and NetPower Inc., are using reams of hard-copy information on Merced to design motherboard sockets, electrical signals and power supplies.
Starting next month, Intel will conduct design reviews with these manufacturers. Because Merced is a completely new architecture, vendors must learn their way around new thermal and electronic characteristics. "We want to make sure the samples will work when they come in, so we have to check for things like airflow and electrical current," Curry said.
Next month, Intel will open its first public Web site for Merced developers, providing building blocks for development.
For the past 18 months, Intel has been working with about 35 OEMs, ISVs and independent hardware vendors on early technical designs and specifications.
One of the companies that has announced support but may fall behind in development is Digital Equipment Corp., which is awaiting government approval to sell its chip business to Intel. Because the deal is not final, Intel is withholding critical Merced information from Digital.
Bruce Claflin, Digital's senior vice president of worldwide sales, in Maynard, Mass., said recently the company's lack of access to Merced documentation will not hinder its ability to release systems with the rest of the industry. "No one has chips yet," he said. "We will be ready when everybody else is."
Additional reporting by John Dodge