By the end of next year Franco-Italian semiconductor manufacturer SGS Thomson Microelectronics NV should be ready to begin selling a mainstream Intel Corp-compatible microprocessor to the world’s largest PC makers, giving other Intel cloners, including Advanced Micro Devices Inc a run for their money. The chip’s designer, one-time Sparc RISC concern Metaflow Technologies Inc, claims […]
By the end of next year Franco-Italian semiconductor manufacturer SGS Thomson Microelectronics NV should be ready to begin selling a mainstream Intel Corp-compatible microprocessor to the world’s largest PC makers, giving other Intel cloners, including Advanced Micro Devices Inc a run for their money. The chip’s designer, one-time Sparc RISC concern Metaflow Technologies Inc, claims it will be the fastest device of its type on the market when it appears. SGS Thomson has emerged as the mystery company funding Metaflow, and last week took a 60% majority stake in the small La Jolla, California-based firm for an undisclosed amount. SGS, which has acquired its stake from Hyundai Electric America Inc, has been working with Metaflow for the past two years. Metaflow has recently been attracting attention as one of a group of companies preparing to launch Intel processor clones, and it’s this that attracted SGS Thomson, which already has an agreement with Cyrix Corp to use Cyrix’s architecture as an embedded 486DX core. SGS, which says its new deal is complementary to the existing Cyrix agreement, is looking to produce super- integration system on a chip products which incorporate Intel compatibility in .25 and .35 micron technology. It believes they will be useful for products such as Network Computers, set-top boxes and handheld systems, to name a few, where X86 and Windows95 compatibility will be a must. Metaflow is keeping quiet about its forthcoming products, which include a new advanced microprocessor design and a new media processor design, but does say that its processor, which is suitable for use in volume desktops, has more than 10 million transistors, should tape out by the end of this year and be in production by the end of 1998. SGS Thomson has been working with Metaflow on the part for the last two years in a development said to have cost tens of millions of dollars already. Previous implementations of Metaflow’s superscalar architecture, which can execute instructions out of order, were the Lightning and Thunder designs, developed in conjunction with Hyundai, and built to emulate the Sparc RISC architecture. Hyundai took delivery of Thunder at the end of 1995, but the thing was never productised. Metaflow is also working on silicon design for Chromatic Research Inc’s MPact media chip, also on behalf of SGS Thomson. Interestingly, Metaflow’s three key patents in the areas of out- of-order and speculative execution – techniques which supposedly underpin much of the current crop of high-profile microprocessor patent suits – were awarded to Metaflow in 1989 and passed to Hyundai as part of its original investment in Metaflow. No-one at Hyundai claimed any knowledge or existence of the patents.