More details about Intel's next-generation Pentium II processor -- code-named "Katmai" - were unveiled at the Intel Developer Forum in California yesterday. "The goal is better computer-human interaction by increasing the use of multimedia," said Ticky Thakkar, principal processor engineer with Intel's microprocessor group during a presentation at the Forum.
The new processor will include 70 new commands known, as the Katmai New Instructions. These commands will speed multimedia processing, allowing fast 3-D graphics, higher-quality DVD playback, digital video encoding, and digital audio processing. Arguably, the Katmai announcement will be Intel's most important next year. The company is expecting to unveil the processor in the first quarter of 1999.
Both the so-called Katmai New Instructions and a similar set of processor enhancements already available from Intel rival Advanced Micro Devices will turn PCs into multimedia powerhouses. "We are fundamentally bound by the speed [or lack thereof] of the processor or the bus," said Michael Hara, director of strategic marketing with graphics-chip maker Nvidia Corp. "The more you open up the bottlenecks, the more we can reap the benefits." The release of the Katmai processor will fill in a gap that AMD has been exploiting for almost half a year with its 3DNow! instructions.
The 21 3DNow! instructions agreed upon by AMD and two other processor companies -- National Semiconductor and Integrated Device Technologies -- can boost 3-D processing speeds by as much as 30 percent.
Similar performance is expected from Intel's technology as well. However, the Katmai New Instructions are more comprehensive and are expected to provide a significant boost to multimedia applications. "In 3-D processing, Katmai and 3DNow! are essentially the same," said Peter Glaskowsky, industry analyst with semiconductor technology watcher MicroDesign Resources. "However, there are a lot of functions that Katmai will speed that 3DNow! won't." Both DVD decoding and audio processing will benefit more from Katmai, he said.
Three major technologies were outlined at the Intel Developer Forum. The first, called dynamic execution, adds a rudimentary sort of intelligence to the processor to determine the most optimal way to run applications. Add this to Intel's new streaming memory technology, and instructions are run at a much faster pace. Finally, like AMD's version, the Katmai New Instructions can process four pieces of data at once, significantly speeding up how fast applications run.
But AMD is not standing still. Around the same time that Katmai makes its debut, the company will release its next major processor, code-named "Sharptooth". The processor will integrate a 256KB secondary memory cache onto its current processor's core. Sharptooth is expected to be fast. "I think the K6-3 is going to be a real screamer," said Nathan Brookwood, an industry analyst with market researcher Dataquest.
When Intel added such a cache to its Celeron processor -- albeit, only 128KB -- performance was boosted 20 percent to 30 percent. With double the cache, AMD is expecting much more. "Sharptooth will absolutely be better than Intel's Pentium II," said Dana Krelle, vice president of marketing for AMD's computational products group.
Another advantage for AMD: Most of its processors will be equipped with the 3DNow! instructions by early next year. And since Intel does not immediately plan to put its Katmai instructions into the Celeron processor, only the company's highest -- and most expensive -- mainstream products will use it. "It is no longer true that AMD is a follower," said Brookwood. "This is a horse race [for the consumer market], and AMD is right in there.