Intel Corp may well take some criticism for launching the Pentium with MMX technology just days after children have taken their new Christmas Pentium computers out of the box. The MMX multi-media extensions, now available for the 166MHz and 200MHz Pentium processors, enable the main processor to handle video, audio and graphics faster and more efficiently, by processing instructions in parallel. The result is that even software not written especially for MMX should run 10% to 20% faster with MMX, Intel says. Those software developers who have spent the past 18 months working with Intel to understand the capabilities of MMX, many of whom have simultaneously launched MMX-optimized software, claim their new packages, with significantly enhanced graphics, video and audio, were made possible only because of MMX. The technology has been hailed as the most significant change to Intel’s architecture in more than a decade, since it will be the first Intel processor in that time that offers an enlarged instruction set (CI No 2,898). There have been accusations that there is a flaw in the basic MMX design because some multimedia and floating point instructions share the same register, and this may cause some speed degradation (CI No 3,053). However, Intel says it has no plans to alter the MMX with Pentium standards now, and adds that Microsoft Corp’s Windows operating systems have been written to cater for handling the shared registers.
Home consumers – the primary market
The company is in no doubt as to where the primary market for the MMX enhancement lies. The take-up of MMX will be led by the home consumer, and by the games market in particular, where more sophisticated two and three-dimensional graphics, audio and video come into their own. Intel denies there was any pressure from either the channel or the manufacturers to delay the launch of the Pentium with MMX until after the Christmas rush. European technology manager Ian Wilson said it was simply a matter of having to coordinate the launch so that the software developers, hardware manufacturers and Intel were all ready with products to ship. Yet with MMX extensions adding only $41 to the price of a 200MHz Pentium, $550 against $509 in quantities of 1,000, and Gateway 2000 announcing it will sell its MMX boxes for the same price as the standard Pentium, it looks as though a pre-Christmas launch would have left a lot of abandoned Pentium stock gathering dust. Wilson was coy about estimating what percentage of Pentiums shipped will be with MMX extensions by the end of the year, saying only the number would be significant. However, since the manufacturing process is apparently only slightly more complex with MMX than without, and uses the same 0.35 micron CMOS processes, it would seem likely that the ‘significant’ will mean significantly all. Intel claims the business market will also benefit from the technology. The company has simultaneously launched a 150MHz and 166MHz processor for mobile computers, which it says will offer enhanced applications such as video conferencing to the business user on the road. Most of the major personal computer manufacturers have announced products with MMX to coincide with the launch, including Compaq Computer Corp, Dell Computer Corp, Gateway 2000 Inc, IBM Corp, Mitsubishi Electric Co Ltd, ICL Plc, Packard Bell Electronics Inc/NEC Corp, Hewlett- Packard Co, and Siemens Nixdorf Informationssysteme AG. Software developers that have already announced MMX products include Dorling Kindersley Holdings Plc, with version 2.0 of its educational biology title The Ultimate Human Body, Maris Ltd with a three-dimensional Space Station Simulator game, and Adobe Systems Inc with PhotoDeluxe, which enables users to customize photographs scanned into their computers or downloaded from the Internet. Wilson estimates there will be more than 100 MMX software titles available by the end of the year. For those who have bought a Pentium without MMX, Intel is still promising an Overdrive chip that will give an upgrade path for the Pentium, due