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September 23, 1998


By CBR Staff Writer

Intel Corp is privately working on a specification for a radical, new server system I/O architecture that it says will replace the PCI bus by the end of the year 2000. The revelation comes just weeks after Hewlett-Packard Corp, Compaq Computer Corp and IBM Corp revealed they had been secretly working together on a new, joint specification, called PCI-X, to replace the current Intel- designed PCI bus (CI No 3,492). Although Mitch Shults, Intel’s director of server platform marketing, said the new architecture wouldn’t immediately supplant PCI it’s clear that the timing of the chip giant’s announcement is a direct comeback to the PCI-X trio. Given that their spec has only just been passed to the PCI Special Interest Group (SIG) for approval, it’s not likely the technology will be integrated into PCs until mid-1999 at the earliest, only a year before Intel says its new architecture will take over. Shults said Intel’s new I/O system is based on switched fabric; a radically different technique from today’s PC buses. Rather than take a signal from the CPU into a bus through hard wires (the PCI implementation), signals are passed from the chip into a high-speed silicon switch or fabric. Shults said the fabric system is much faster as components in the I/O sub-system each have a direct connection to the fabric, as opposed to sharing the pipe and waiting in line for a signal, which slows the whole system down. To achieve the levels of reliability companies are increasingly demanding from their servers requires a fundamentally different architecture than PCI, he said. We have to move away from the shared bus model. It’s fine for small systems, but as we gradually move to servers with more processing power, we have to have a better, more reliable I/O sub-system. He said there was nothing new about the architecture per se; IBM has been using the same switched fabric in its mainframes and supercomputers for years. Now Intel wants to extend the technology across all Intel-based servers at a volume-based cost. Shults, who did not divulge any names, said Intel is working with a group of companies to develop the specification for the new standard. The company plans to unveil the spec during a private, non-disclosure meeting with OEM partners, PC vendors and those people that don’t even use PCI today, some time in November, Shults said. He added that Intel plans to license the technology, for free, to any manufacturer or developer who wants to adopt it. The challenge will be to convince server makers and other key players, that its plans aren’t a proprietary money-making scheme, fears that reportedly lead to the development of the rival PCI-X spec.

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