Those foolhardy major workstation vendors that have already chosen their next generation of CPUs had better think again, claims Intel as it launches its 64-bit floating point, 32-bit integer, million transistor microprocessor the i860. Heralded by the company as the vanguard chip for the next computer revolution, the i860 is a totally self-contained processor designed for high-speed multiprocessing systems, 3D workstations, and graphics subsystems. As previewed (CI No 1,118, 1,119), the processor contains integer, floating point and graphics units, a memory management unit, and instruction and data caches on a single component and was designed with the desktop supercomputer of the future in mind. The main technical details have already been outlined in preview, but it is worth pointing out that the chip has a 32-bit RISC core (not 64-bit) and loads two 32-bit instructions in the same clock cycle sending them to integer and floating-point units for parallel execution. Another important point is that the performances claimed for the part at the International Solid State Circuits Conference related to a version of the chip clocked at 50MHz, and that will not be released in 1989. The 40MHz version of th epart is rated by Intel at 33 VAX MIPS and 80 MFLOPS single precision. Those who can remember the problems Intel had with lack of software for the iAPX-432 will be reassured to know that a wealth of companies are seeing to the question of sotware support. The first major project off the mark (CI No 1,125) is the Intel, AT&T, Ing C Olivetti, Prime Computer team which is developing multiprocessor Unix operating system technology for the 80386, i860, and upcoming 80486 chips. The project enables each company to work with Unix System V for Intel architectures and then apply that knowledge to their individual development of Unix. The work will incorporate multiprocessor features from Carnegie Mellon University’s Mach slimmed down multi-processor version of Unix, and through a joint agreement Intel and AT&T will have System V release 4.0 Application Binary Interface compatibility for the 80386 and 80486 architecture in the fourth quarter of this year. AT&T will publish the Application Binary Interface specifications for general distribution. The announcement of this project has been swiftly followed by the news that Intel will work with IBM to develop a bus master card, codenamed Wizard, that will combine the power of the i860 with IBM’s Micro Channel to accelerate applications for PS/2 – perhaps creating inter alia a lower-cost replacement for the IBM 5080 graphics display subystem. As regards development tools, the Californian company Green Hills Software is now shipping Fortran and C compilers for the i860 to run under Unix System V Release 3.0. It is intended that supercomputer tasks using the chip’s dual operation will be written in Fortran. The launch of the i860 was accompanied by a host of product announcements from various companies: Ardent Computer has ported its Dore 3D visualisation software to the chip; Kontron Elektronik will incorporate the chip in its KLA/2 logic analysers and KSE5 emulator; Tektronix is developing a real-time analysis and debug tool for the processor called the 92DM15; MetaWare is developing its High C and Professional Pascal compilers for the i860. Furthermore, while Megatek, SPEA Software, and Number Nine Computer Corp all say they are developing graphics applications for the chip, Mercury Computer Systems is working on the MCxF range of systems which will address numerically-intensive, scientific and engineering applications. Co-processor for OS/2 machines Despite this flurry of activity in the technical computing industry, Intel ultimately intends the chip to be used in the personal computer market. To this end Microsoft is considering using the i860 as a co-processor accelerator card giving the desktop computer specialised floating point and 3D graphics running under its proprietary OS/2. This is a short-term strategy Intel welcomes as an upgrade path for the 80386 but the company is adamant
that the i860 was really designed to give desktop supercomputing power built around multiple 860s bolted together. Intel predicts that such systems will be on sale next year for under $10,000. The chip itself (to be manufactured in the CHMOS 4 process at Intel’s Oregon and New Mexico plants) is available in sample quantities now, and will be available in 40MHz and 33MHz clock speeds in the third quarter of 1989 with prices starting at $750 when you buy 1,000 or more. A starter kit for people wanting to get the feel of the thing includes the chip as a back-end to an 80386 running Unix System V.386 with C and Fortran, and costs $24,500.